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- 01/28/13--03:17: _Rob Riley's "Sordid...
- 01/29/13--03:18: _University of Alaba...
- 01/30/13--03:35: _Vanguard Group's Po...
- 01/31/13--03:25: _Did Alabama Lawyer ...
- 02/04/13--03:28: _Nebraska Republican...
- 02/05/13--03:14: _Obama Department Of...
- 02/05/13--08:10: _Federal Jury Hits U...
- 02/06/13--03:32: _Board That Will Dec...
- 02/07/13--03:22: _CEO Ted Rollins Got...
- 02/08/13--03:10: _Riley Influence Per...
- 02/11/13--03:45: _"Your Honor" In Mic...
- 02/11/13--08:15: _A Skillful Intervie...
- 02/12/13--03:24: _Radio Veteran Expla...
- 02/12/13--08:17: _New UAB President R...
- 02/13/13--03:05: _Joe Biden Provides ...
- 02/13/13--08:47: _The University of A...
- 02/14/13--03:22: _Can ABC Be Fair On ...
- 02/18/13--03:39: _U.S. Supreme Court ...
- 02/19/13--03:17: _Ex Wife of CEO Ted ...
- 02/20/13--03:01: _Did AG Luther Stran...
Life in postmodern Alabama is filled with irony. For proof, consider two major news stories that broke last week.
On Wednesday, allies of former Governor Bob Riley protested a liquor-license application for the VictoryLand casino in Macon County. The protest, led by Attorney General Luther Strange, is a continuation of Riley's crusade against non-Indian gaming in Alabama, an issue that dominated the last two years of his administration. Strange essentially argued against the license on moral grounds, claiming that VictoryLand is a disreptuable organization because it uses electronic-bingo machines that the AG considers to be illegal slot machines.
On Thursday, we broke a story here at Legal Schnauzer about a messy extramarital affair involving Homewood attorney Rob Riley and Alabama lobbyist Liberty Duke. Rob Riley, of course, is Bob Riley's son and has played a central role in his father's rise to political power. In fact, it could be argued that Bob Riley never would have made it into public office without his son's behind-the-scenes machinations as a campaign manager, fund-raiser, and adviser.
On one day, we have long-time associates of the Riley family arguing that VictoryLand is not the sort of "reputable" organization that merits a license under the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC). In his protest letter, Strange claims that VictoryLand's "reputation is clouded" and then alleges that the facility and its owner, Milton McGregor, have a "sordid past."
The next day, we learn that Rob Riley, a married father of four who is a deacon and Sunday school teacher at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, had an affair that led to a number of personal and political complications. Does that mean Rob Riley's reputation is "clouded"? Does it mean he has a "sordid past"? A reasonable person could conclude that the answer is yes.
A reasonable person also could conclude that last week's ABC hearing was a farce. Bill Britt, of the Alabama Political Reporter, apparently came to that conclusion in a piece titled "Fair Hearing Or Show Trial For VictoryLand ABC License?" Reports Britt:
The hearing came down to a few simple questions, “Are the machines legal? Can bingo played on anything other than paper cards to be considered bingo according to Alabama law?” The argument present by the AG’s office, said that anything other than paper was not legal. An argument, that would seem to suggest, that the world of bingo had stopped turning in the 1950s, that eBook, eMail and that the universe of smart phones, computers and a software based society did not exist.
ABC hearings are supposed to follow the standard rules of civil procedure. But Britt reports that the proceeding veered wildly off course:
During testimony before the commission, . . . the AG’s office presented pictures of machines that were nothing like the ones at VictoryLand, and still the ABC Chairman allow the evidence to be placed into the record. One former member of the judiciary, who would not comment with attribution said, “It was the worse case of evidentiary admission I have ever seen.”
Britt also noted that the ABC panel did not seem impartial, peppering VictoryLand attorney Joe Espy with questions while giving the AG's representatives mostly a free pass. When the full-day hearing was completed, Britt writes, it seemed a final decision--expected in about two weeks--would have little to do with ABC rules and regulations:
Both sides put on brave faces concerning the case they had presented, but it would be difficult, if not impossible, to guess what was on the minds of the hearing commission. One thing seemed to be clear for most of the standing room only crowd gathered at the ABC hearing, this trial was about Milton McGregor and not necessarily about the law.
Britt was not the only reporter who seemed to notice the one-sided nature of the proceeding. Wrote Sebastian Kitchen, of the Montgomery Advertiser:
Espy and state Sen. Billy Beasley have questioned why the attorney general is fighting the liquor license at VictoryLand, but is not questioning those at the three casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Espy also questioned why Strange’s office has not contested the liquor license for Greenetrack in west Alabama, which he said unlike VictoryLand is not competition for the Poarch Creek casinos.
Kitchen also spotlighted Espy's contentions that VictoryLand, contrary to Strange's protest letter, has a history of operating within the law. (Strange's protest letter, and Victoryland's response, can be read at the end of this post.)
Espy said the casino had a license for years before closing in 2010 and that there were never any issues, and said the attorney general protesting a liquor license is unprecedented. He said the attorney general does not have the legal authority to contest the license and is usurping the ABC Board and local elected officials, who have argued the establishment is legal.
What has changed to bring VictoryLand's liquor license into question? Nothing of substance, it appears. It's just that a faction of the Alabama Republican Party seems hell-bent on following Bob Riley's wishes, even though he no longer is in power. Those same Republicans also seem determined to ignore the sordid activities that have been going on right under their noses.
A quick check of Rob Riley's extramarital affair with Liberty Duke will bring those activities to light. It also might teach the self-righteous Riley crowd that perhaps, to borrow a phrase from the New Testament, they should deal with the logs in their own eyes before pointing fingers at specks in the eyes of others.
Protest letter from Attorney General Luther Strange
VictoryLand's response to Strange's protest
(To be continued)
Here is a maxim I've learned in roughly 12 years of fighting corruption in our broken justice system: If a party in a lawsuit drags its feet on turning over documents in the discovery process, you can almost bet that party is trying to hide proof of its wrongdoing.
A classic example comes in a recent report that lawyers for the University of Alabama System are not cooperating with discovery requests in a wrongful-death case stemming from the Amy Bishop shootings in February 2010.
Bishop, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, entered a guilty plea last September of killing three of her fellow faculty members in the biology department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). The shootings came after Bishop had been denied tenured, and her appeal dismissed.
The families of two of the victims--Dr. Maria Ragland Davis and Dr. Adriel Johnson--sued Bishop, her husband, and UAH Provost Dr. Vistasp Karbhari. The lawsuit alleges that Karbhari knew Bishop was deeply upset about the tenure decision, and he did not follow university procedures for dealing with distraught staff members.
You might think the UA System would have the decency to at least cooperate with victims' families in the Bishop case. But you would be wrong. And that is zero surprise to me.
As regular readers know, I've had the "pleasure" of suing the UA System. That came from my wrongful termination in May 2008 after almost 20 years as an editor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). We've presented indisputable evidence, in the form of a tape-recorded phone conversation with a UAB human-resources official, that I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman.
First Amendment violations can't come in a more blatant fashion than that. But did I win my lawsuit on an issue that could be proven beyond a doubt? Nope, and that's because U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr., an 84-year-old Reagan appointee, corruptly granted the university summary judgment.
This surely will not make the families of the UAH victims feel any better, but at least they are getting to conduct discovery in their case. That doesn't always happen when you go up against the University of Alabama--and I know from personal experience.
Clear procedural and case law states that summary judgment cannot be considered, much less granted, when the opposing party has not been able to conduct adequate discovery. That simple standard is perhaps best described in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988). Acker ignored the law and granted summary judgment without giving me the chance to conduct any discovery, adequate or otherwise.
Lisa Huggins, one of UA's chief lawyers on the Birmingham campus, has to know that my case was unlawfully dismissed. And she almost certainly knows that's because discovery would have yielded mounds of evidence that I was, in fact, cheated out of my job because certain legal and political elites did not like the content of my blog.
But does Huggins care that my due process rights were trashed beyond comprehension? Is Huggins going to stand up and acknowledge that a judge who probably borders on senility violated his oath to uphold the law? Of course not--and that's because she and her taxpayer-funded client benefited from the bogus rulings.
Anyone who doubts that UA acted with utter disdain for the law in my case, should check out the university's behavior in the Amy Bishop case. And this involves three families who are trying to recover from the violent deaths of loved ones on UA property, under UA "management."
According to a report at al.com, the families had to file a motion to compel, seeking to force UA to turn over discoverable documents. The university responded by claiming the documents would cost millions of dollars to retrieve.
Is there anything out of the ordinary about the families discovery requests? The answer is no, according to these words from reporter Brian Lawson:
The plaintiffs asked Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall to order the defendants comply with discovery and subpoena requests in a "reasonable and cost-effective manner." The plaintiffs are seeking phone records for numbers assigned to Karbhari, former UAH President Dr. David Williams and several UAH employees and "security detail information" for Karbhari, Williams and Shelbie King Hall, the UAH administration building.
They are also seeking "correspondence and communications transmitted by and to Dr. Vistasp Karbhari regarding Amy Bishop via University email accounts."
Phone and e-mail records? That is standard information to seek in a lawsuit. It's exactly what I would have sought if I had been allowed to conduct discovery in my case.
How does UA react to such reasonable and lawful discovery requests? In my case, someone connected to the university commits a federal crime--obstruction of justice--by communicating to a corrupt judge that discovery needs to be short-circuited. (By the way, that's not just a guess on my part; Judge Acker's own words in open court, captured on a transcript, point to such unlawful ex parte communication.)
In the Bishop case, the university wants victims' families to shell out millions of dollars for information to which they clearly are entitled under the law.
Why are UA lawyers behaving in such an unconscionable fashion? I think the answer is simple. In fact, I pretty much predicted the current discovery impasse in a post titled "Lawsuits Are Piling Up Over Mass Shooting In Alabama," dated February 17, 2011:
Playing legal hardball with families who have seen loved ones killed or injured on UA property could turn into a public-relations nightmare.
Worse for the university, perhaps, is the thought that any of the lawsuits could advance to the discovery stage. If that happens, the public could wind up finding out what happened with Amy Bishop's tenure process in the weeks and months leading up to the shooting. As we reported previously, evidence strongly suggests that Bishop, while she had a prickly personality, met the criteria for tenure:
"Reports about Bishop's teaching ability are a mixed bag. Some students rated her highly, finding her to be insightful, effective, and caring. Others complained, saying she lectured mostly from the textbook, gave unfair tests, and had a distant manner.
But Bishop's record as a researcher, alone, indicates that she probably met the criteria for tenure. UAH recently received an Area Research Enhancement Award (AREA) from the National Institues of Health, a grant designed to promote research at universities that have not traditionally received much NIH support. Who brought home that major grant? Amy Bishop."
Our review of the public record leaves little doubt that Amy Bishop met the criteria for tenure, but her bid was denied because certain individuals did not like her--or perhaps were jealous of her. An anonymous colleague reportedly deemed Bishop "crazy" during the tenure-review process, even though the faculty member apparently had no expertise in mental-health issues. From our post titled "What Role Did 'Crazy' Comment Play in Shootings at UAH?"
If the anonymous professor had legitimate grounds for thinking Amy Bishop might be a threat to herself or others, there were other avenues to take. He could have contacted human resources, the legal office, campus police--the list goes on.
My understanding about the tenure process, and I worked in higher education for a long time, is that it's supposed to be about a junior faculty member's capabilities in three areas--teaching, research, and service. In many instances, I'm told, service carries almost no weight, teaching carries some weight, and research carries a whole lot of weight. Research, which is particularly important in the sciences, was Amy Bishop's strong suit--and that leads us to believe that she almost certainly met the criteria for tenure.
I've seen no indication that the tenure process is supposed to be an opportunity for uninformed and unqualified individuals to question a candidate's mental health. And it certainly is not a time for administrators to allow such individuals to sway life-changing decisions.
So why is UA now stonewalling on discovery in a wrongful-death lawsuit? As someone who worked in the UA System for almost 20 years and has seen how the university conducts itself in litigation, I have no doubt about the answer: Amy Bishop should have been granted tenure, but her application was denied for improper reasons--and discovery would show that Provost Vistasp Karbhari hardly was alone in handling the process badly.
My guess is that at least a dozen administrators and faculty members played key roles in botching the Bishop tenure-review process and should be held accountable in the wrongful-death lawsuits.
UA is withholding discovery documents in an effort to provide cover for those individuals--and to ensure that the public never learns what really happened with the Amy Bishop shootings in Huntsville.
Vanguard Group, the nation's largest mutual-fund company, received unwanted attention after the Sandy Hook massacre in December when reports showed that it was a major financial supporter of gun manufacturers. Based in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern, Pennsylvania, Vanguard is the No. 1 holder of Smith & Wesson stock and a top-five investor in Sturm Ruger.
John C. "Jack" Bogle, founder of Vanguard Group, said in a radio interview just days after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that the investments simply were part of the firm's strategy to "hold the market" via index funds. (See video at the end of this post.)
Bogle's message, in so many words, was that Vanguard can't be held to any standards of ethical investing because gun manufacturers are in the market, and his firm is committed to "holding the market." If gun makers' products wind up being used to slaughter school children . . . well, Vanguard really can't do much about that, Bogle seemed to be saying.
One wonders, then, how Bogle explains Vanguard's holdings in pornography. Is it strategically imperative to "hold that market"? The answer must be yes because public records show that Vanguard is a prominent holder in at least three companies that deal directly in porn. Vanguard's holdings in companies with indirect ties to porn--cable broadcasters, hotel chains, Internet providers, etc.--clearly are vast.
Vanguard's questionable ethics is not limited to the world of weapons and porn. It is the No. 1 investor in Campus Crest Communities, a developer of student housing near college campuses around the country. Ted Rollins, the company's CEO, has a criminal record that includes a conviction for assault on his 16-year-old stepson in Franklin County, North Carolina. Rollins also was the subject of a social-services investigation, based on a citizen complaint, for possible child sexual abuse involving the same stepson.
The assault met the definition for child abuse under North Carolina law, even though Rollins was prosecuted only for a "simple assault." Does it bother Vanguard Group that it supports a CEO with a documented history as a child abuser? The answer apparently is no.
Part of the reason might be that Vanguard has a long history of supporting various Rollins-family enterprises. It is a major holder in Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., the umbrella company for Orkin Pest Control. It also is a prime investor in RPC Inc., a Rollins company that offers a number of services related to oil exploration and drilling.
That last one might come as a bit of a surprise to big-money investors who consider themselves "conservative." But it's right there in the public record.
Most porn companies are private operations, but Vanguard has investments with at least three that are publicly traded:
* Private Media (PRVT)--Based in Spain, Private Media is a worldwide distributor of pornographic films. According to records at rocketfinancial.com Vanguard is the company's No. 5 investor.
* FriendFinder Networks (FFN)--Based in Boca Raton, Florida, FriendFinder Networks is a holding company for numerous Internet firms that deal in adult content. Penthouse Media Group in 2007 bought Various Inc., the parent company of FriendFinder, and renamed itself FriendFinder Networks. Vanguard Group is the No. 6 holder of FFN stock.
* LodgeNet Interactive (LNET)--Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, LodgeNet is a major provider of pornographic films for the hotel industry. The company has been struggling financially, but Vanguard holds almost 629,000 shares.
Why does Vanguard, with its huge array of assets, need to be involved in porn? Perhaps the answer can be found in Jack Bogle's statements, made just days after the Sandy Hook shootings, about his company's involvement with gun manufacturers:
We are the largest holder (in Smith & Wesson), and we probably own about 5 percent of every corporation in America. The reason we do is that our strategy is one of hold the market. Smith & Wesson is in the market, so we will be holding that.
Should we speak up? The answer is yes. Should we get out of the stock? I think that is pretty debatable because if your whole strategy is to hold the whole market, you end up making a whole lot of judgments that are never quite as clear as one might hope.
It's something we ought to be thinking about, but we couldn’t go to Smith & Wesson management and say, "Get out of the gun business." That’s their business. . . . If we got out of that stock, the company wouldn’t even know it; somebody else would own it. You don’t have the kind of clout you would think that a 5 percent or so owner would have.
Does this attitude explain Vanguard's cozy relationship with Ted Rollins, even though he has a record as a child abuser? It probably does. Does it explain Vanguard's connections to porn? Apparently so.
Should Americans casually accept such an explanation from a company that carries massive financial clout? Perhaps it's time we all started asking ourselves that question.
Here is an interview with Bogle on the Radio Times program at radio station WHYY in Philadelphia, from December 2012, just days after the Sandy Hook shootings:
|Jennifer Paige Clark|
The Alabama State Bar harassed one of its member lawyers to death, probably because she refused to sell out her own clients, a Legal Schnauzer investigation shows.
The lawyer in question was Jennifer Paige Clark, who was found dead at her Mobile home last May 26, nine days after the state bar had suspended her license on charges that our research shows were unfounded. The clients were Ms. Clark's parents, Larry and Hilda Clark of Flowery Branch, Georgia.
At least three major oddities about the Jennifer Paige Clark case strongly suggest that bar officials knew they had no legitimate grounds for investigating her, much less imposing discipline. So why did they do it? It's almost certainly because Ms. Clark was doing exactly what lawyers are supposed to do--she was providing her clients with zealous representation, and certain judges did not welcome that.
Our investigation shows Ms. Clark uncovered facts that made powerful interests uncomfortable in two states. When politically connected judges could not force her off the trail, they apparently sicced the Alabama State Bar on her. The bar responded by charging Ms. Clark with rules violations that she clearly did not commit--and by conducting a disciplinary trial that, public documents show, make a kangaroo court look dignified by comparison.
What politically connected judges are we talking about? No. 1 on the list is Georgia Superior Court Judge Jason Deal, the son of the state's Republican governor, Nathan Deal. Public records suggest that Judge Deal did not appreciate an Alabama lawyer aggressively pursuing a case against a Georgia municipality and took steps to get Ms. Clark removed from the case. Did that include voicing his displeasure to the Alabama State Bar, leading to a baseless investigation? The answer appears to be yes. (See Judge Deal's order revoking Ms. Clark's admission to practice in Georgia, at the end of this post.)
Even the Alabama State Bar seemed to acknowledge that its original charges against Jennifer Paige Clark were bogus. How do we know? In suspending Ms. Clark's license and seeking her disbarment, the bar made almost no mention of the original charges. Rather, it cited Ms. Clark's conduct during the discipline hearing as the primary grounds for suspension.
Our review of the hearing transcript shows that Ms. Clark did not engage in inappropriate conduct--unless you consider it inappropriate to express irritation at being forced to defend yourself against trumped-up charges. Ms. Clark's main response was to repeatedly, and correctly, state that she could not violate attorney-client privilege by discussing inside information about the case. The Alabama State Bar decided such "misconduct" merited sanctions that essentially would ruin Ms. Clark's career.
Nine days after those sanctions were announced, Ms. Clark was found dead. An official cause of death still has not been announced.
Jennifer Paige Clark's story provides a tragic twist to one of many ugly truths in our dysfunctional justice system. As we have shown in several posts, your own attorney often can prove to be your worst enemy in any court battle. Why does this happen? We will provide more details in a moment, but here is the short answer: The outcomes of many legal battles, in both state and federal courts, have little to do with the relevant facts and law; rather, they often are decided by compromised judges who play favors for certain parties or attorneys.
Published reports indicate Jennifer Paige Clark did not play along with that game. Consider this section from Ms. Clark's obituary, featuring comments from Mobile County District Judge Charles N. McKnight:
Jennifer Clark could be "the sweetest person," according to Mobile County District Court Charles McKnight, and was well liked. "But get her in a courtroom and you could get something completely different,""said McKnight. "She was a very hard worker. She was tenacious to a fault. She vigorously represented all her clients regardless of their station in life. I admired her willingness to represent the lowest of the low."
If Jennifer Clark provided vigorous representation for "the lowest of the low," imagine how hard she would fight for her parents? Ms. Clark represented her parents in a pair of property-related cases, using aggressive discovery tactics--and documents in the cases indicate the Clarks uncovered misconduct involving powerful forces in two Southern locales.
One is Hall County, Georgia, which perhaps is best known to sports fans for hosting the Atlanta Falcons NFL training camp at Flowery Branch. Gainesville, the county seat, is where former Congressman and current Georgia Governor Nathan Deal built his political base.
The other hot spot is in Baldwin County, along Alabama's Gulf Coast and home to a burgeoning real-estate market where beachfront condominiums can yield massive profits for certain developers.
What about the three oddities that raise serious questions about the Alabama State Bar's motives and actions in the Jennifer Paige Clark case? Here they are:
* The Alabama State Bar initiated the investigation on its own--The bar can do this under Rule 3(c) of the Alabama Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. But I know from personal experience, and based on information provided by other citizens, that the state bar routinely declines to investigate cases where evidence of attorney wrongdoing is clear and irrefutable. That suggests it is rare for the bar to launch an investigation on its own.
* There was no client complaint against Jennifer Paige Clark--Our research indicates the vast majority of bar investigations are launched by a client complaint. But there was no such complaint against Ms. Clark; by all accounts, her parents were pleased with her representation.
* The investigation was launched based on information that Jennifer Paige Clark provided to the bar--You heard that correctly: The Alabama State Bar launched an investigation because of information that Ms. Clark herself sent to them. That strongly indicates Ms. Clark did not have a "guilty mindset." Would she have copied the bar on correspondence that she thought contained a violation of bar rules? Of course not. Ms. Clark clearly did not think she was violating any rules, and our research indicates she was correct about that.
Why do so many lawyers turn against their own clients? For many, it's a matter of survival in a profession where the pursuit of power and billable hours has become far more important than the pursuit of justice.
In far too many cases, corrupt judges decide that one party or attorney is going to receive a favorable judgment--or at least will not suffer the kind of damages that might be inflicted in an honest court. That leaves the other attorney to convince his client that it's best not to push too hard--that justice really is being done, even though it might not look that way.
Experience has taught me that the stronger your case, the more likely you are to be the victim of such a con game. That tells me that Hilda and Larry Clark probably had very strong cases--both in Hall County, Georgia, and in Baldwin County, Alabama.
Many lawyers, under pressure from corrupt judges, would have convinced the Clarks to either give up on their cases or accept offers that amounted to a fraction of what the cases were worth. If that didn't work, many lawyers would have withdrawn from the cases, keeping the Clarks' money and leaving them to seek other counsel or fend for themselves.
Jennifer Paige Clark apparently did not treat her clients that way. And she certainly was not going to treat her parents that way.
By refusing to go along with the game that many lawyers are expected to play, did Jennifer pay with her career--and her life. We think the answer is yes.
(To be continued)
Rick Sheehy had been seen as the front-runner in the state's 2014 gubernatorial race. Now, it looks like his hopes for the governor's mansion are dashed, and his political career might be over.
The Sheehy saga is the latest in a long line of stories that involve breath-taking hypocrisy and arrogance among "family values" conservatives. It also might serve as a wake-up call for the Riley wing of the Alabama Republican Party, which is about to see several of its prominent members unmasked for extramarital escapades.
That process already has started with our reports about Rob Riley, the son of former Governor Bob Riley, having an affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke. Rob Riley heads the Riley Jackson law firm in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, but he is best known as a campaign manager, fund-raiser and adviser for his father's campaigns, dating to the mid 1990s.
Rob Riley's affair with Liberty Duke produced sordid complications that dwarf anything being reported so far in the Rick Sheehy scandal--and we will be providing those details in a series of upcoming posts. But Rob Riley is not the only Alabama GOPer to prove that he does not take marital vows seriously.
Why do so many Republicans seem to think they can get away with moral bankruptcy? Why do they think that regular citizens won't eventually see through them?
We don't have the answers to those questions, but the Rick Sheehy story is a classic in a burgeoning genre of Republican sleaze. How did a rising star in Nebraska's GOP circles step in doo-doo? This is from a report in the Omaha World-Herald:
Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy was a road warrior in his job, driving thousands of miles across the state to deliver speeches and cut ribbons.
But a monthlong investigation by The World-Herald uncovered a secret life during that travel, involving 2,300 phone calls to four women, other than his wife, during the past four years.
Sheehy, who served eight years in his post, resigned abruptly Saturday after the newspaper contacted him Friday about the calls, made on a state-issued cell phone.
The newspaper filed a public-records request for information about Sheehy's use of a state-issued cell phone. What did the records reveal?
The investigation showed that many of the calls to the four women involved long conversations in the middle of the night. . . .
The four women Sheehy called regularly include two former elected officials widely known in their communities. One of the women, a Bellevue doctor and former City Council member there, said she had a four-year affair with the lieutenant governor. Another woman, a former school board president and Chamber of Commerce official in Holdrege, did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.
The two other women — one living in Texas, the other in Colorado — told the newspaper that their late-night calls were not sexual in nature.
The Lincoln Journal Star provides more details on how the Sheehy scandal came to light:
A request also was made for email correspondence between Sheehy and (Dr. Theresa) Hatcher and Sheehy and Michele Ehresman, a former director of the Holdrege Area Chamber of Commerce.
The records show, for example, Sheehy made or received 73 calls to and from a Holdrege area cellphone, some late in the evening, on 10 days in January 2012.
The thought that cell-phone records might surface must never have occurred to Rick Sheehy. In Alabama, Rob Riley must have figured that word of his dalliance with Liberty Duke never would get around. And now we learn that one of Rob Riley's cohorts in the family political machine must have held similar delusions.
Some Republicans--whether they are in the Midwest, the South, or elsewhere--never learn.
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If you asked average Americans to describe President Barack Obama's philosophy on justice issues, you probably would be greeted with blank stares.
That would happen partly because many average Americans don't keep up with justice issues. But it also would happen, in part, because Obama has taken precious few strong stands on fundamental matters of right and wrong. In fact, the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ), under Attorney General Eric Holder, is known mostly for having amoeba-like qualities--it's a shapeless blob that doesn't stand for much of anything. And Holder is making a strong case for himself as the most ineffectual attorney general in U.S. history.
But a breaking story out of Philadelphia has provided insights into what we might call "The Obama Doctrine" on justice issues, and here it is:
"We won't do a thing about cases involving war crimes, financial fraud, or prosecutorial misconduct. But, by God, we are going to make the world safe from traffic-ticket scofflaws."
That seems to be the take-home lesson from last week's report that nine current or former traffic-court judges in Philadelphia have been indicted for conspiracy and fraud, involving a widespread scheme to fix traffic tickets for those who are well connected. A court clerk and two businessmen also were indicted. Here is a description of the charges, from a report at philly.com:
The charges, outlined in a 77-count indictment, described "a well-understood conspiracy of silence" that created two distinct courts: one where typical citizens paid for their infractions, and a second where offenders with the right connections won acquittals or saw their fines or cases disappear. . . .
The indictment alleged that a practice was more the rule than the exception--judges or their assistants shredding documents, shifting cases to friendly judges, and hiding behind code words. Instead of bluntly asking a colleague to quash a ticket, judges allegedly asked for "consideration" on certain cases and then watched them disappear.
Consideration, the indictment said, was reserved for friends and relatives, ward leaders, and contractors or merchants who could trade favors of their own. Requests came by phone, in person, and in notes dropped in a box at a local bar.
A reasonable citizen might ask, "Why is this a federal matter?" Public-corruption cases almost always involve the use of federal wires or mail systems, and often include the exchange of money, so that gives the DOJ jurisdiction.
Perhaps the bigger question is this: Why did the Obama Justice Department spend three years investigating traffic tickets in Philadelphia while it has ignored far more serious wrongdoing around the country?
Let's consider just a few of the stories we've reported here at Legal Schnauzer:
* Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman sits in a Louisiana federal prison because of bribery charges that were brought almost one full year after the statute of limitations had expired. The prosecution team, led by Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, engaged in rampant misconduct; powerful evidence points to juror misconduct; and U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller gave jury instructions that did not match the applicable law.
* Mississippi lawyer Paul Minor and former state judge John Whitfield sit in federal prisons because U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate gave jury instructions on honest-services fraud that did not come close to matching the actual law. Another former state judge, Wes Teel, has been released after serving his sentence for a crime he did not commit.
* Bonnie Cahalane, a Clanton, Alabama, resident, recently spent almost five months in jail because of an alleged debt connected to her divorce case. Alabama law plainly states that a litigant is not subject to contempt of court or imprisonment because of a property-related debt from the dissolution of a marriage. Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds threw Ms. Cahalane in jail anyway and has unlawfully forced her to place her house for sale.
* Sherry Rollins, a Birmingham resident, and her two daughters have spent more than seven years under an unlawful divorce judgment issued by Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson. The order wildly favors Ted Rollins, the CEO of Campus Crest Communities and Ms. Rollins' former husband. Ted Rollins also just happens to belong to one of the nation's wealthiest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control. Sherry Rollins initiated divorce proceedings in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family lived, and the case was litigated there for three years. Ted Rollins somehow got the venue changed when it appeared he was going to receive unfavorable outcomes in Greenville. Crowson took the case, even though black-letter law shows he had no jurisdiction.
* U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. granted summary judgment in my employment lawsuit against the University of Alabama System, even though I was not allowed to conduct any discovery. Black-letter federal law says summary judgment cannot be considered, much less granted, when the opposing party has not been allowed to conduct adequate discovery. Acker flagrantly violated his oath to uphold the law by denying the right to conduct discovery that would prove my case.
Three of the cases noted above originated in federal courts, so the DOJ clearly has jurisdiction to investigate those matters. The two others--the Cahalane and Rollins cases--involve state-court public corruption and probable use of federal mails or wires, which also would invoke federal jurisdiction.
All five cases involve wrongdoing that is far more serious than that alleged in Philadelphia. But has the Obama DOJ looked at any of these cases? We've seen no sign of it. And those are only a few such cases that we've raised here--on one blog, in one state.
To be clear, we are all for nailing corrupt traffic-court judges. Those are publicly funded positions, and they should not be sullied by bribery and fraud. But the Obama DOJ would be taken much more seriously if it addressed corruption across the board, especially in cases that involve serious abuses of the public trust.
How flimsy is the Philadelphia case? Two of the indicted judges are charged with fixing one traffic ticket each.
Can we all say, "Good grief"?
Meanwhile, Mark Fuller, Henry Wingate, Sibley Reynolds, Al Crowson, William Acker Jr., and countless other judicial thugs continue to serve.
We are glad to see the Obama DOJ has awakened to the problem of courtroom corruption. But the Philadelphia story appears to be a classic case of worrying about the wart on your butt while your pants are on fire.
|Hayden Barnes (right) and|
FIRE lawyer Bob Corn-Revere
A federal jury has found that a former university president must pay $50,000 in damages for wrongfully expelling a student who had protested the construction of two parking garages on campus.
The verdict, in a case styled Barnes v. Zaccari, is being hailed as a major victory for supporters of free speech in higher education. Ronald M. Zaccari, former president of Valdosta State University in Georgia, was held personally liable for damages to former student Hayden Barnes, who was "administratively withdrawn" from the university after peacefully protesting a decision to build parking garages. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and attorney Bob Corn-Revere, took the case on Barnes' behalf.
Barnes has a number of parallels to my own experiences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where former president Carol Garrison OK'd my unlawful termination after almost 20 years on the job in various editorial positions. We have presented irrefutable evidence, in the form of a tape-recorded conversation with a UAB human-resources official, that I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the Bush-era political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
In my case, an employee grievance committee found that I should not have been terminated, and evidence at the hearing showed my supervisor had no grounds for even minimal discipline, much less immediate termination. Cheryl E.H. Locke, UAB's HR director at the time, upheld my termination when I refused her offer to return to a position other than the one I had before--in an unnamed department, under an unknown supervisor--with two written warnings in my file. (A UAB employee automatically is fired for a third written warning; this strongly suggests that the university was setting me up to be fired all over again, after it had botched the job on its first try.)
I appealed Locke's ruling to Garrison, but the university president went against her own grievance committee--which spent four hours hearing evidence--and upheld my termination.
The ruling in Barnes drives home the point that Garrison could be held personally responsible for depriving me of a clear constitutional right--in this case, the First Amendment right to free speech. And the damages would amount to way more than $50,000.
Of course, a corrupt federal judge named William M. Acker Jr. granted summary judgment to the university and individual defendants in my case, even though I was given no opportunity to conduct discovery. Basic procedural law, perhaps best outlined in a case styled Snook v. Trust Company of Georgia, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988), plainly states that summary judgment cannot be granted, much less considered, when the opposing party has not been given adequate opportunity to conduct discovery.
I was given no opportunity to conduct discovery, but Acker happily violated black-letter law to let Garrison and others off the hook. The good news, from my perspective, is that the case was dismissed without prejudice, meaning it can be brought again.
Barnes, at first glance, is not ground-breaking law. University officials and other "state actors" long have been subject to liability for violations of clear constitutional rights. The issue in Barnes was this: Did his enrollment at Valdosta State amount to a property right that could not be abridged without due process? In other words, did Barnes have a clear constitutional right to not be unlawfully expelled?
In 2010, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta answered that question in the affirmative, essentially stating that sovereign immunity did not protect the university president. That led to a trial and last week's $50,000 judgment against Zaccari.
Ironically, neither Zaccari nor Garrison remains in office. Zaccari was forced to resign under pressure after the Barnes lawsuit was filed. Garrison suffered a similar fate at UAB, when she stepped down under mysterious circumstances last August, just two days after fall classes started.
Why has Hayden Barnes received a significant measure of justice in his campus free-speech case, while I (so far) have been cheated on a much stronger case? As I see it, here is the major difference: Barnes had the good fortune to have the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) take up his case. I, on the other hand, have been representing myself--acting pro se, as it's called in the legal world.
A corrupt federal judge, such as William Acker Jr., has little reason to fear cheating a pro se litigant. But cheating a party who is represented by a national organization such as FIRE is a good way to draw attention to yourself. And that's the last thing a corrupt federal judge wants.
In fact, FIRE noted that campus free-speech cases can be exceptionally difficult to win without the backing of a powerful organization. From a FIRE press release:
"College administrators have been blatantly and willfully violating student rights for decades, but they have far too often dodged personal responsibility. Not so today," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "We hope this serves as a much-needed wake up call to college administrators that it's time to start paying close attention to the basic rights of their students."
I applaud FIRE's efforts on behalf of Hayden Barnes. But I would suggest the organization take a closer look at constitutional violations against university employees.
I know, from first-hand experience, that they occur all too frequently.
|Hal and Jessica Taylor|
The Alabama board that will decide on a liquor license for the VictoryLand casino includes an officer with strong professional and personal ties to former Governor Bob Riley. The officer's wife has even stronger connections to Riley.
Riley spent much of his last two years in office trying to shut down non-Indian gaming facilities such as VictoryLand, and the current debate over a liquor license was launched by a long-time Riley ally, Attorney General Luther Strange. That could lead a reasonable observer to ask: Does VictoryLand have any hope of receiving a fair hearing before a board that includes at least one official with strong ties to Riley?
Hal Taylor, a captain in the enforcement division of the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC), used to work as a security officer in the governor's office under Riley. Published reports indicate that Taylor now is assistant director of enforcement for ABC and also serves as the board's chief spokesperson.
Jessica Taylor, Hal's wife, might be even closer than her husband to the Riley family. Published reports show that Jessica Taylor worked for Riley in the governor's office and now serves as treasurer of his Alabama 2014 PAC. Jessica Taylor's LinkedIn page lists her current position as associate at Bob Riley and Associates LLC in Montgomery.
An ABC panel conducted a hearing on January 23, based on Strange's protest letter regarding a liquor license that VictoryLand has held, in one form or another, for almost 30 years. Panel members said they expected to make a decision within 15 days.
Should VictoryLand supporters, and the public in general, feel assured that the facility will get a fair hearing? It's hard to see how, given Hal Taylor's position at the ABC board, his wife's position with Bob Riley's corporation, and their mutual personal ties to the former governor.
How close are those ties? Consider public records about state-airplane usage by Riley, his family, and staff members. Here is one record from 2009:
Date: October 16, 2009
Destination: Sumter, South Carolina
Purpose of Flight: energy project meeting
Passengers on Board: Governor Bob Riley, Bowen Ballard, Executive Security Officer Hal Taylor
Return Flight: October 16, 2009
Here is another record from 2009:
Date: November 21, 2009
Destination: Warm Springs, GA
Purpose of Flight: attend Southern Governors Association annual meeting
Passengers on Board: Governor Bob Riley, Chief of Staff Dave Stewart, Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Blades, Executive Security Officer Hal Taylor.
Did the governor and his executive security officer become close? Did Bob Riley help Hal Taylor get a job at the ABC board? Our research indicates the answer to both questions is yes.
Does Hal Taylor have influence over the ABC board and its decisions? It's hard to say, but Taylor seems to have become the public face of the board. In mid January, he announced that the board had revoked the liquor license of a Montgomery supper club. From a press report on that case:
The Hearing Commission found that the nightclub was operated “in a manner that creates a substantial risk of public harm to the public health, welfare, safety and morals,” Capt. Hal Taylor, assistant enforcement director for the ABC Board, said in a statement.
Harm to "public welfare" and "morals"? Those words sound like they came right out of Luther Strange's protest letter.
Is it hard to imagine Hal Taylor making a similar announcement about VictoryLand? To our ears, it certainly is not.
(To be continued)
The CEO of a Wall Street-backed company got married without a prenuptial agreement because he wanted access to boys of a certain age, his ex wife says.
Ted Rollins, CEO of Campus Crest Communities, belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, RPC Inc., and other profitable enterprises. Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins, who divorced Ted Rollins in 2005, says she knows of no other member of the family who has gotten married without an ironclad prenup.
The Ted and Sherry Rollins marriage, however, took place without a prenup. And Ms. Rollins says she believes that is why Ted Rollins went to extraordinary lengths to get the divorce litigation unlawfully moved from South Carolina to Alabama--and to ensure that she and their two daughters, Sarah and Emma, would be cheated by Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson.
Ms. Rollins also says, in a statement to Legal Schnauzer, that she now believes Ted Rollins is a child predator, and he went ahead with the marriage because he was desperate to have access to her two sons--ages 10 and 16 at the time--from a previous marriage.
"Funny how Ted chooses wives with young boys; seems to be a pattern," Sherry Rollins says. "I believe Ted preys on young boys, ages 8-12 years old."
That issue hits home especially hard for Sherry Rollins. Public records show that Ted Rollins was convicted of assaulting her youngest son, Zac Parrish, in Franklin County, North Carolina. Zac Parrish was 10 years old when Ted Rollins came into his life, and he was 16 at the time of the beating. In between, North Carolina Social Services targeted Ted Rollins for an investigation of possible child sexual abuse, based on a citizen complaint.
Ms. Rollins' oldest son, Eric Parrish, was 16 at the time Ted Rollins entered the picture--and Ms. Rollins now says she believes Ted Rollins abused him, too.
Eric and Zac Parrish have lived in Birmingham for years, and that is why Sherry Rollins fled here after she and her daughters were kicked out of the family home in Greenville, South Carolina. That came after Ted Rollins failed to make court-ordered mortgage and insurance payments.
Eric Parrish, now 40, works in construction for Brasfield Gorrie, which has deep ties to Bradley Arant, Ted Rollins' corporate law firm. Zac Parrish, 34, is a partner in two Birmingham-based residential-construction companies--Parrish Building Company and McMichael and Parrish Homes.
"I am convinced that Eric and Zac had a very strange relationship with Ted--and still have to this day," Sherry Rollins says.
Why is Sherry Rollins convinced of that? Part of the answer comes from communications she's had with Ted Rollins' other wives. It all points to the likelihood that Ted Rollins is a child predator, a conclusion that all of his wives apparently have been reluctant to reach.
The scales, however, have fallen from Sherry Rollins' eyes. And she tells us why in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)
|Jessica Taylor and Bob Riley|
Citizens already have ample reason to suspect the VictoryLand casino will not receive fair treatment in its application for a liquor license before the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC). That's because Hal Taylor, assistant enforcement director at ABC, used to serve as executive security officer for former Governor Bob Riley. And Riley and his associates have spent the better part of four years trying to shut down non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand, while simultaneously accepting financial support from Indian gaming interests.
Concerns about fairness on the VictoryLand issue deepen when we learn that Hal Taylor's wife also has close ties to Bob Riley. In fact, Jessica Taylor's connections to Riley appear to be even stronger than those of her husband.
So a reasonable person can ponder this scenario: Imagine that you had an important issue before a tribunal that just happened to employee an official who used to work for your No. 1 antagonist. Imagine that your antagonist probably helped the official get his new job. Then imagine that said official was married to a woman who still works for your antagonist. Would that create, in your mind, what is often known in the legal world as "the appearance of impropriety"?
It would create more than that in my mind. In fact, I would say, "It looks like the fix is in."
How close is Hal Taylor's wife to the Riley family and all of their political machinations? Well, Jessica Taylor worked for Bob Riley in the governor's office. She now works as an associate for Bob Riley and Associates LLC in Montgomery. In that capacity, she serves as treasurer of Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC.
The PAC role helped land Jessica Taylor in the midst of a controversy in summer 2011. That's when reporters learned that Riley's political action committee had engaged in the kind of PAC-to-PAC transfer that he had pushed to ban as governor. According to an Associated Press report at the time, the Riley team admitted the $50,000 contribution was a violation and returned it after learning of the error.
Mark Kennedy, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, held a press conference to point out the flaming hypocrisy:
"Not only is it a clear violation of state campaign finance laws, it is a violation of the Republicans' promise to bring ethics and transparency to Alabama politics," Kennedy said at a news conference.
That's when Jessica Taylor stepped into the spotlight. From the AP report:
After Kennedy's news conference, the treasurer of Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC, Jessica Taylor, said the PAC mistakenly received the money in March from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).
"Once it was determined that these funds should not have been accepted, they were immediately returned on June 24, 2011," she said in a statement released by the governor's son, Birmingham attorney Rob Riley.
Taylor's name popped up in news reports again later that summer when Attorney General Luther Strange announced that he would recuse himself from an investigation of the Riley PAC's $50,000 illegal contribution. From the Montgomery Advertiser:
The RSLC and Alabama 2014 treasurer Jessica Taylor said the money was returned on June 24, three months after the transfer took place.
On Monday, the Democratic Party asked Strange to recuse himself from the investigation, citing the fact that Jessica Medeiros Garrison, Strange’s former campaign manager, had become director of the Republican Attorneys General Association, an affiliate of the Republican State Leadership Committee. . . .
Under the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, a violation of the state’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $6,000 fine.
Is the fix in on VictoryLand's application for a liquor license? Will Riley allies in key places help ensure that the Macon County facility is denied a license it has held, in one form or another, for almost 30 years?
A decision is expected within the next week. If the applications is denied, VictoryLand and its supporters will have strong grounds for crying foul.
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|Judge Wade McCree bares all|
Wayne County Circuit Judge Wade McCree has worked to earn his title as "Detroit's Sex Judge." In April 2012, he made headlines by sending nude photos of himself via text to a married court bailiff. Did McCree display any remorse on that occasion? Not exactly. His response, upon being confronted with the photos, was, "Hot dog, yep, that's me. There's no shame in my game."
McCree fits right in with other "Judges Gone Wild" we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer. Our favorite has to be Jack Camp, the U.S. district judge from Atlanta who was arrested on drug and weapons charges stemming from his relationship with a stripper. But McCree is coming up fast on the outside, and here is how, from a report about "Your Honor's" most recent escapades:
Wayne County Circuit Judge Wade McCree was suspended without pay after it was learned that he was having sex with a woman whose child-support case was pending in his court, Fox 2 News Detroit reports.
McCree was paid $12,000 a month prior to his suspension. McCree’s pay will be held in escrow until disciplinary proceedings against him are completed. He is currently being investigated for having sex with Geniene La’Shay Mott, a woman who took her ex-boyfriend to McCree’s court on felony charges that he was not paying child support.
“I met him as a litigant, a complaining witness in his courtroom, and he stayed around after the case was over and that’s when the second half of the flirting started and we went from there and our relationship picked up,” she said. “It went from being a summer fling and just something to do to falling in love, promises of marriage, me getting pregnant, us buying a house together, name it.”
Maybe we should salute Judge McCree. Here in Alabama, our corrupt judges tend to be old, stupid, white, and boring--like U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. Or they are young, black, cunning, and shameless--like U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon. Or they are white, rural, red-neck, and arrogant--like Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds.
We have to give McCree points for at least being entertaining.
The Q & A is one of my favorite journalism formats. In the hands of a skillful practitioner, a question-and-answer session can shine light on issues that might be missed or hidden in a standard narrative.
For my money, Joan Brunwasser of OpEd News is one of the most astute interviewers in the world of progressive online news. I've had the honor of being Joan's subject on a number of occasions, usually on matters related to the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.
The results of our latest conversation went online over the weekend, focusing on issues raised in my post from last week, "Obama Justice Department Finally Takes a Stand, By Cracking Down on Traffic-Ticket Fraud in Philly."
Anyone who cares about justice--from any point on the political spectrum--would be wise to check out Joan's work. Here are highlights from my most recent conversation with her:
Joan Brunwasser (JB): You recently wrote a biting piece entitled "Obama Department Of Justice Finally Takes A Stand, By Cracking Down on Traffic-Ticket Fraud in Philly." Surely, you jest.
Roger Shuler (RS): I wish it was a joke, but it's not. Eric Holder and company actually have indicted nine traffic-court judges in Philadelphia for a widespread scheme to fix tickets. This is such a low level of court that you don't even have to be a lawyer to sit on that bench. And yet, the Obama DOJ is going after them. And two of the judges are charged with fixing one ticket each.
Most people who care about justice probably don't have a problem with corrupt officials being outed, whether it's in a high-level position or not. But when you think about the justice-related problems the Obama administration has ignored--the Don Siegelman case in Alabama, the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, to name just two--you have to wonder, "Who is minding the store?"
Then we focused specifically on the Siegelman case and the unlawful actions of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. It's a case that the Obama DOJ has refused to touch:
JB: Let's go back to Don Siegelman for a minute, Roger. Don's conviction for a non-crime put at risk every single public official, past, present or future, who accepts campaign donations. That's a scary thought. Can you explain that one to us?
RS: It is scary on a number of levels, Joan. Most Americans probably understand the definition of a standard bribe--a person holds an office, someone offers him money or another incentive to provide a favor, and the favor gets done. That's what I call an "everyday bribe"; people understand what that is. But in the context of a campaign contribution, the law is different. And that's because our system is built around candidates raising funds in order to run for office.
I'm not sure bribery law regarding a campaign contribution even is spelled out via statute, so many officeholders have no way of knowing what it is. It is spelled out in case law, in a U.S. Supreme Court case styled McCormick v. United States. That says prosecutors must prove "an explicit agreement," also known as a quid pro quo ("something for something" deal) in order to convict for an alleged bribe in the campaign context. . . .
Fuller's jury instructions, contrary to law, did not require that an "explicit agreement" be present.
That means Don Siegelman resides in a federal prison because he violated a "crime" that Judge Mark Fuller created; it's not based on real law. This might be the scariest part of all about the Siegelman case: You can be convicted in our country of a "crime" that a judge simply pulls out of thin air on the bench. There is nothing that requires a judge to base his jury instructions on the real law.
Joan asked about Obama's curious inaction on Bush-era irregularities in the justice system:
JB: How do you explain the president's reluctance to take on any of the hard but important cases like Siegelman's? Is he afraid? If so, of whom? Of what?
RS: I can only guess at an answer. I think it's possible that Karl Rove has some damaging information about the president or his associates, and Obama doesn't want to risk any kind of counter attack from the GOP. I also think it's possible that a genuine inquiry would go right to the top of the Bush family, and Obama simply does not have the stomach for such an ugly fight.
How is this for irony? The Democratic Party, since passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, has consistently stuck its neck out to stand up for justice issues. In the process, it has paid a huge electoral price, just as Lyndon Johnson predicted. But now we have our first black president turning his back on the very justice issues that have given his party its moral authority. On the really big issues of the past 40 years, Democrats have always been on the right side of history. Now, it looks like Obama is going to break with that tradition--and in essence, that leaves us with two major parties that are both dysfunctional and ineffective on justice issues.
No wonder Anonymous and the Occupy movement have come to hold out hope for many Americans. We certainly have seen no reason to hope that Obama or Holder will restore the rule of law in our country.
What does this mean for our future? Joan raised that issue:
JB: So, where does that leave us, Roger? We've already seen how movements can be and have been infiltrated, compromised and neutralized. Is there any hope for massive grassroots pressure that can accomplish nothing less than the restoration of fairness in our court system? Without that, everyone is at risk and democracy is just a concept that doesn't very much resemble present reality.
RS: I think it leaves us in a state of decline. Broken justice systems are a classic hallmark of dysfunctional societies. Press reports about the recent rape/murder case in India stated that a number of citizens witnessed the attack but refused to come forward because they did not trust the justice system. They did not want to get involved in a process they knew to be corrupt.
We probably aren't at that level yet, but that's where we seem to be headed.
You can read the full interview here.
|Peter B. Collins|
Why is talk radio dominated by right-wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh? Why have progressive voices largely failed to gain traction on the radio dial? What does it mean for our country when the federal airwaves are used to trumpet one viewpoint?
Peter B. Collins, who has more than 40 years of experience in radio, answers those questions and more in an insightful Truthout piece titled "An Insider's View of the Progressive Talk Radio Devolution."
I've been a guest on Peter B's San Francisco-based radio program many times, usually to discuss events related to the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. I consider Peter B. a friend, but he also is a sharp and courageous progressive, a compelling interviewer, and a darned good writer.
His Truthout piece provides the most concise explanation I've seen of the challenges liberal voices face in the world of talk radio. Peter B. is blunt enough to state that progressives, at times, have been their own worst enemies; some of their talk-radio wounds have been self-inflicted.
Recent events make the outlook even more grim than usual for progressive talk radio. Key outlets in Portland, Seattle, and Detroit have been lost--and that threatens the financial viability of syndicated shows hosted by Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, and others.
How did we get here? Peter B. provides a brief history lesson and notes that we have both the Reagan and Clinton administrations to "thank":
Since the rise of Rush Limbaugh and the shift of hundreds of radio stations to wall-to-wall conservative talk in the 1990s, progressives have faced a decidedly uphill battle. In my experience, most station owners and managers have a strong bias to the right, and with a few exceptions, the rest just look for the easiest way to make maximum profit.
It's no accident that Limbaugh was recruited for the heavily market-researched model that was labelled "non-guested confrontation talk radio" after Reagan's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifted the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Clinton's 1996 Telecommunications Act removed ownership limits that led to rapid consolidation and the troublesome concentration of control by national operators we see today. Three companies control almost all of the talk radio stations with competitive signals in the major markets: Clear Channel, CBS and Cumulus.
The sad story of Air America did not help the progressive cause. Writes Peter B:
Air America raised the expectations of many of us--and consistently disappointed. Recruiting comedian and author Al Franken as their marquee star, his radio show was flat and not very funny. For some reason, he was paired with NPR veteran Katherine Lanpher, who was not permitted to say much. Topics and guests were safely anti-Bush and pro-Kerry, but real liberal, anti-war voices were not invited; Franken talked up his United Services Organization (USO) tours in Iraq as evidence that he supported the troops.
In its initial business model, Air America made two major blunders: bundling and brokering. Embracing antiquated practices from the 1950s, they tried to force affiliate stations to carry all of their programs; when most station owners rejected this "bundling," they were forced to lease time on stations, which was costly and disastrous.
You might think that a Democrat in the White House would help matters. But you would be wrong:
Despite the sharp decline in the progressive radio business, we all hoped that the end of the Bush presidency and the 2008 elections would produce new growth in lib talk. With the protracted primary battle between Obama and Clinton, and Obama's inspiring campaign against McCain, we expected to see a spike in ratings and affiliates and hoped the Obama campaign and other Democrats would spend money to reach our listeners, their voters. There was no measurable audience growth and only a precious few campaign dollars were spent on our programs and our affiliate stations.
In August of 2008, all of the progressive shows converged on the Obama coronation in Denver, but we were ignored by the Obama campaign. We were assigned a radio row in the basement of the convention hall, under an escalator. All the delegates and dignitaries whisked past us on the escalator, and when they reached the main floor, the first radio booth they saw was FOX News. Team Obama mostly declined our requests for interviews and we ended up mostly talking with Team Hillary. Schultz was so pissed that he pulled out after the second day and returned to his base in Fargo.
How bad are things for liberals on the radio dial? Peter B. sums it up:
Ratings range from flat to flat-lined: In 2012, Clear Channel-owned KPOJ in Portland and CBS-owned KPTK in Seattle showed audience numbers so low that they were not listed by Arbitron; Clear Channel's WDTW in Detroit barely showed a pulse at .1 percent, and the once-powerhouse, now-struggling media conglomerate recently agreed to donate WDTW to a local community group. In his second attempt at WVKO in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Richards was forced to sign off just before Christmas 2012. Progressive talker Jeff Santos waged a valiant four-year struggle in Boston, and I was a consultant in his effort last year to add eight new markets in battleground states; we had no choice but to lease air time, and once again the Democrats who had the most to gain failed to support the effort.
The only exception I've found is Madison, Wisconsin, market #100, where Clear Channel's WXXM-FM, "The Mic" jumped a full share point to a respectable 3.3 this fall. . . .
Al Franken is in the Senate, Ed Schultz appears to be doing well on MSNBC, Thom Hartmann has a nightly TV show on the RT network, Bill Press and Stephanie Miller are simulcast on Current TV (which has just been sold to Al Jazeera). But their radio shows face tough sledding and possible elimination in 2013.
Where is progressive talk radio headed? The future isn't bright, and we should not look for any help from the Obama administration:
As someone who took substantial personal risk in syndication and station ownership, I can tell you that progressive talk has not panned out as a viable business. Clinton's 1996 deregulation of broadcasting and the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 didn't help. I do think the FCC should require some balance of viewpoints on the stations it regulates, through the license renewal process, but there is simply no interest on the part of Obama and his appointees in regulatory reform--even as the president is pilloried by right-wing radio on a daily basis. Air America's parade of management blunders produced the downward spiral that brought us to this tipping point for progressive talk radio, and most station owners, rightly or wrongly, see that failure as an indication that audiences won't support liberal talk radio.
Is there any hopeful news? Peter B. has this:
In radio, we always like to end on an upbeat note. Here's the best I can muster: if you want to help keep the surviving progressive talk shows alive, subscribe to the podcasts of your favorite progressive hosts - it's a critical stream of revenue as these programs fight for survival.
Dr. Ray Watts officially was named president last week of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the largest employer in our state and the No. 1 driver of economic activity in the metro area. Watts had been dean of the UAB School of Medicine before taking over for Carol Garrison, who abruptly and mysteriously resigned last August.
What challenges does Watts face in his new role? As a former UAB employee, with almost 20 years of service, I have a few thoughts on that question. And I decided to share them in an open letter to the school's new chief executive.
February 12, 2013
Dear Dr. Watts:
I used to think being president of UAB would be a pretty cool job. I became an admirer of the university quickly after moving to Birmingham from Missouri in 1978. I covered the early years of the Blazers athletics program under Gene Bartow for the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald and went on to work at the university in a variety of editorial position for almost 20 years. My employment came to an end in May 2008 when I was unlawfully terminated from my job by various forces under your predecessor, Carol Garrison.
That experience taught me a number of inconvenient truths about UAB that I wish I had never known. And it's why I do not envy you in the task that lies ahead.
The cold truth is that Garrison's reign was not just unpleasant for me; it was an unmitigated disaster for UAB as a whole. I chronicled some of the malfeasance and incompetence that took place on her watch in a post titled "UAB Dysfunction Doesn't Happen in a Vacuum."
Perhaps Garrison's greatest failing was that she allowed a culture of fraud to take over the campus. The place is riddled with liars, cheats, and other bad actors. I submit that your No. 1 task will be to root out moral decay and restore a sense of integrity on the Southside.
Am I overstating the problem? Well, consider a couple of examples from my own experience.
Evidence at my grievance hearing showed there were no grounds for discipline of any kind, much less immediate termination. In fact, UAB's own committee found I should not have been terminated. But Garrison upheld the termination anyway. Indisputable evidence shows I was fired not because of any misconduct or performance issues on my part, but because I was reporting on this blog (on my own time, with my own resources) about the political prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman--and that apparently was a hot topic that was not to be publicly discussed, even though I had a First Amendment right to do so.
Am I imagining all of this? Not in the least. A UAB human-resources official admitted to me in a tape-recorded phone conversation that I was targeted because of my reporting on the Siegelman case. You can hear the conversation in a video at the end of this post.
Here is where we get to moral decay, and it's apparent in an employment lawsuit I filed against the UA Board of Trustees and various individuals at UAB: The same woman who admitted I was targeted because of the reporting on the Siegelman case, denied in an affidavit that I was terminated because of my blog. At least four other UAB employees who had reason to know the truth made similar untruthful statements under oath. As I'm sure you know, their actions amount to perjury, which is a felony.
The ugliness does not end there. William M. Acker Jr., an 85-year-old federal judge in Birmingham, granted summary judgment without giving me an opportunity to conduct discovery. That cannot be done under the law, and everyone with three days of law school knows it. How gross is Acker's misconduct? It would be the equivalent of a doctor giving a patient strychnine instead of aspirin.
But why should this concern you? Individuals in the UAB Office of Counsel, led by John Daniel and Lisa Huggins, have to know that Acker ruled unlawfully in a way that benefits the university. In fact, a strong argument can be made that Acker engaged in criminal conduct, and this is spelled out at 18 U.S.C. 242 ("Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law") and a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court case styled United States v. Lanier.
Did Daniel and Huggins knowingly engage in a conspiracy to violate Section 242 on UAB's behalf? If so, they and the university could have serious problems on their hands.
If you are like most medical folks I've met at UAB, your primary concerns center around biomedical research funding and revenue from patient care. But you have inherited a situation that involves criminal conduct on the part of UAB personnel, and you would be wise not to ignore it.
Carol Garrison was like a lax parent who allowed 5 year olds to play with matches. You didn't create this situation, but it's your responsibility now. If you don't handle it properly, you might find flames--and the law--licking at your heels.
UAB desperately needs new leadership. Garrison was preceded by two other failed presidents--W. Ann Reynolds and J. Claude Bennett. That means UAB has been running in place, at best, for more than 15 years.
You clearly are a man of strong scientific credentials. But your presidency probably will be judged by your ability to restore integrity to UAB. Consider this quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
"Unless a man is honest we have no right to keep him in public life; it matters not how brilliant his capacity; it hardly matters how great his power of doing good service on certain lines may be. . . . No man who is corrupt, no man who condones corruption in others, can possibly do his duty by the community."
I hope you will take those words to heart. I also hope you will prove to be the president that gets UAB back on the right track.
Roger Shuler (aka "Legal Schnauzer")
Here is direct evidence of the moral decay that has become rampant at UAB:
|Dana Siegelman on HuffPost Live|
Biden recently told Dana Siegelman, Don's father, that he supports freedom for her father, according to a new report from Huffington Post. Dana Siegelman is the driving force behind free-don.org, an online-petition Web site devoted to seeking a presidential pardon for her father.
How did Joe Biden enter the picture? Well, it happened because Dana Siegelman is an articulate, aggressive spokesperson for justice--and she crossed paths with the vice president at a Washington, D.C., meeting of Democratic party chairs on the day after inauguration. Lindsay Wilkes-Edrington, of Huffington Post, describes the encounter:
Siegelman's daughter Dana recently spoke to HuffPost Live about the fight to free her father, who is currently being held on bribery charges despite a six-year battle to overturn his conviction. Siegelman discussed an encounter she had with Biden during a meeting of the Democratic party chairs in Washington D.C.
"I was able to sneak up and shake his hand, I held it tight and told him I was on a mission to free my dad," she told HuffPost Live. "His eyes got very big and he generally announced to the people around me, and to me, 'I am too.'"
Dana Siegelman said Biden's words "meant the world" to her and seemed to indicate that the White House is aware that the Department of Justice hasn't been doing a thorough job.
So we finally know that someone in a high place is aware that the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder is performing poorly? Can we get an "Amen"?
Former Alabama Congressman Parker Griffith appeared with Dana Siegelman on an episode of HuffPost Live. Griffith said former Bush White House strategist Karl Rove had "his hands all over" the Siegelman case. Griffith also said that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, who presided over the trial, was not qualified to sit on the federal bench and clearly should have recused himself from the Siegelman case.
A direct link to the HuffPost Live segment is available here.
Don Siegelman is a long way from being out of the woods, and his daughter acknowledges that politics remains a tricky part of the equation:
Dana Siegelman told HuffPost Live that she thinks politics continue to play a role in why her father remains in prison.
"The president is aware he has to work with Congress over the next four years," she said. "The last thing he wants is a kickback from overturning a lot of these Bush appointees that are still there. I believe only 30 percentage of the Department of Justice has been replaced with Obama appointees. So you still have 70 percent. We don't know if they're pledging allegiance to the former president or not, but it is disheartening to see people who 10 years ago approved the prosecution against my father being the same ones denying his freedom now."
Joe Biden has been known to be a verbal loose cannon. He even has been known to draw the ire of Obama advisers for speaking off script. But the vice president is on target in this case. He finally is showing that the White House has a sense of moral authority, and Obama would be wise to follow suit.
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|(Clockwise, from upper left) UA|
football players Brent Calloway, Tyler
Hayes, Eddie Williams, and
Four Crimson Tide football players have been arrested and suspended in connection with the beating and robbery of a fellow student. My initial reaction to the news probably was similar to that of many sports fans. It went something like this: "Those players are a disgrace, and they should be ejected from the campus immediately."
But then it occurred to me: Why should football players, some of whom probably are from disadvantaged backgrounds, be held to a higher standard than the president of the university's board of trustees?
I'm talking about Paul Bryant Jr., who sits atop the body that governs the three-campus UA System. As we have reported in a series of posts here at Legal Schnauzer, Bryant has documented ties to a $15-million insurance-fraud scheme. In 1997, a Philadelphia lawyer and entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart was convicted on a variety of charges and received a 15-year prison sentence. He only recently was granted freedom.
Alabama Reassurance, one of Bryant's Tuscaloosa-based companies under the Greene Group umbrella, was implicated in the scheme. (See document at the end of this post.) Federal investigators were set to target Alabama Re after the Stewart conviction, but someone in the U.S. attorneys office for the Northern District of Alabama called off the probe.
G. Douglas Jones, a Clinton appointee and University of Alabama graduate, served as U.S. attorney at the time. Jones now is a lawyer at the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter and has refused on multiple occasions to answer our questions about the canceled Alabama Re investigation.
|Paul Bryant Jr.|
Will the accused Crimson Tide football players receive the same considerations that were afforded to the man who now leads their university? It doesn't look like it; a large legal hammer appears set to come down upon them.
Is that partly because all four players--Eddie Williams, Tyler Hayes, D.J. Pettway, and Brent Calloway--are black? A reasonable person could come to that conclusion.
The victim of the attack surely wants the players prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law--and it looks like that will happen. The public probably supports swift and sure punishment--and that is understandable.
But before we rush to judgment on four UA freshmen, perhaps we should at least consider what Paul Bryant Jr. has gotten away with--and why he got away with it.
|Hal and Jessica Taylor,|
with Bob Riley
That should concern citizens who care about honest government, as a decision on the VictoryLand case is expected any day now.
Hal Taylor, who serves as captain and assistant director of the ABC enforcement division, used to work for Riley as an executive security officer in the governor's office. But the ties go way beyond the professional realm. That is evident from reading The Taylor Times, a blog written by Jessica Taylor, Hal's wife.
Jessica Taylor's professional ties to Riley might be even closer than those of her husband. She worked for Riley in the governor's office and now serves as an associate at his company, Bob Riley and Associates LLC in Montgomery. Her duties there include serving as treasurer of Riley's Alabama 2014 PAC.
But consider the personal connections, which are quickly apparent from reading Jessica Taylor's writing at The Taylor Times, especially in a June 2012 post titled "This Is Just the Beginning." First, Jessica Taylor puts her religion front and center:
Welcome to the life and "Times" of the Taylors. The purpose of this blog is to be a lifelong reminder of the Grace, Love, Mercy, Peace and Blessings the Lord has given to our family. My prayer is that one day our children will read this blog and see what an amazing God we serve.
I am Jessica Taylor. I love the Lord. I have an amazing husband, Hal Taylor and two amazing children, John Harris and Elizabeth Lynn (Lizzy Lynn) Taylor. I am a sinner that is saved by God's grace. I am not perfect, but I strive learn more about God daily, love my husband, and teach my children the disciplines of the Gospel. Also, I am not a writer. In fact, I really don't like writing. I want to have a journal of all our life adventures and the journey's the Lord puts in our path. I meant to start this a long time ago, but as usual, life got in the way.
I was born September 28, 1978 in Birmingham, Alabama. My parents are Jeffrey Harris and Judith (Lynn) Early Flannery. I have one older sister (Brittney Flannery Thompson) and one younger brother (Jeffrey Harris Flannery, Jr.). I am blessed with a family that loves the Lord and each other. I grew up in Birmingham and had the wonderful privilege of attending Briarwood Presbyterian Church as well as Briarwood Presbyterian school. I graduated from Auburn University with a double major in Public Relations and Spanish.
Those familiar with the Birmingham church scene will recognize Briarwood as one of the largest, most conservative congregations in the area, known for its heavily Republican leanings. We then learn that Briarwood played a role in introducing Jessica Taylor to the Riley family:
After graduating college I moved back to Birmingham and worked for the Hoover Chamber of Commerce. I was the Membership director which really helped me learn how to get out and meet people. While working for the Chamber, I met then Congressman Bob Riley who was the keynote speaker at Briarwood's patriotic rally service for the 4th of July. . . .
Anyway, I met Bob Riley that Sunday, and he announced he was running for Governor that following Monday. His campaign headquarters were in Homewood, AL so I went down and volunteered to help. I really didn't think I would get into politics. I did always dream of going to work everyday in a suit. I thought I was going to be an architect, until I went through 9th grade math and shot those dreams right out of the water. Regardless, I wanted to have a career wearing a business suit. On New Year's Eve of 2011, Congressman Riley "told" me that I was going to start working for him full time. I started out as a field representative, and quickly moved to his head scheduler. I loved that position. I told him every move to make, which was pretty stressful, but at the same time neat to see how his schedule formed his legacy. I worked day and night, went to every local fair, including the "Chitlin' Festival" and the "Rattle Snake Rodeo" campaigning for him. He won the primary and after a long legal battle won the general election. I remember standing in Rob Riley's law office with Rob, the Governor and Toby Roth when the concession call from Governor Siegelman came in. In true Bob Riley fashion he was gracious to the incumbent governor. Moments later he looked at me and asked, "are your bags packed?" I replied confused, "packed for what?" He quickly blurted, "MONTGOMERY." To this day I have never formally interviewed for any job with Governor Riley.
One has to almost guffaw at the notion of young Jessica being impressed by Bob Riley's ability to be "gracious to the incumbent governor," Don Siegelman. Is it supposed to be difficult for the winner to be gracious, especially when the election almost certainly was stolen?
Before long, Bob and Patsy Riley decided to play matchmaker. Writes Jessica Taylor:
Working for Governor Riley brought many amazing memories, meeting great people and traveling the world. I was fortunate to travel to places like Hawaii, France, England, Ireland, Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and cities all over the United States. A few of my favorites were the Republican Convention in New York, the Farnborough Air show in Paris, an Economic Development trip to Hawaii, and visitng the CAFCO plant in China. Some amazing people I met were President Bush (3 times), Laura Bush, Condi Rice, Tony Snow (who sadly died of cancer a short time after I met him), Shaun Hannity, General John Ashcroft (in the President's box at the Kennedy Center), John McCain, Sean O'Keefe, and many others.
My favorite memory of working for Governor Riley is meeting my wonderful husband, Hal Taylor. We met on the campaign trail, and Governor Riley set us up on our first date. He takes all the credit for our marriage, and admitted it at our wedding. We were married on August 27, 2005. I will have another blog on that later.
What is the role of government in American life? Jessica Taylor has a curious take on that:
You see, July 4th is my favorite holiday. I love it more then any other. My father graduated from the Naval Academy in 1969 and served our country for many years. I burst with pride every July 4th when I see my father stand when "Anchor's Away" is played during the July 4th service. That is why it is my favorite holiday. I have a lot of pride in our country. We are so blessed to be founded by men and women who believed Scripture to be God-breathed, God to be the Triune God, and the sanctity of life. Those same men and women fought for me so that I can openly read that divine written book whenever I please. No other nation in the world can claim this heritage. I am so thankful for it, and thankful for God's grace in allowing me to be born and reared in America the Beautiful.
Members of our armed forces have fought so that we can read the Bible whenever we please? I'm sure that would be news to many historians--and to many men and women who have served in uniform.
Surely Jessica Taylor would agree with us that governmental affairs should be conducted honestly and fairly, without undue influence from certain powerful figures? Surely she would agree that VictoryLand and owner Milton McGregor are entitled to a fair hearing, based on the law and the facts, for its liquor-license application? And surely that means the decision should not be influenced by Bob Riley, who has spent years and huge sums of taxpayer dollars trying to ruin McGregor's business?
Regardless of what Jessica Taylor thinks, we soon should learn a lot about the integrity, or lack thereof, at the ABC board.
How entrenched is the rot in our federal judiciary? How grotesque is the corruption and incompetence in U.S. courtrooms?
Those questions perhaps can best be answered by reviewing the Bush-era Paul Minor prosecution in Mississippi. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) now is considering a petition to review the Minor case and overturn the convictions of three men who went to federal prison for crimes they did not commit--in fact, for "crimes" that do not exist under federal law.
A decision on whether to review Paul S. Minor v. United States of Americais expected any day from the high court. (The petition for certiorari review can be viewed at the end of this post.) If SCOTUS refuses to review Minor, it will be giving tacit approval to the current dysfunctional state of our federal justice system. The situation is particularly dire in the Fifth Circuit and the Eleventh Circuit, which stretch across the Deep South from Florida to Texas.
The Eleventh Circuit (Florida, Georgia, Alabama) is based in Atlanta, and its three-judge panel of right-wing nominees butchered the case of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. The Fifth Circuit (Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas) is based in New Orleans, and it performed a similar hatchet job on the Minor case.
Portions of the certiorari brief in Minor describe the Fifth Circuit's actions in almost comedic terms. In fact, the appellate court's handling of the case would be downright laughable--if the stakes were not so high. Two citizens, former attorney Paul Minor and former state judge John Whitfield, currently reside in federal prisons because of convictions that are not supported by fact or law. A third defendant, former state judge Wes Teel, was released in 2012 after serving his sentence. A fourth defendant, former state judge Oliver Diaz, was forced to endure two trials before being acquitted both times.
Here is the gist of Minor's argument before SCOTUS: The bribery convictions already have been overturned, but the Fifth Circuit upheld honest-services fraud convictions; that ruling was incorrect based on the trial-court record, but it becomes doubly wrong in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in a 2010 case involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling. The high court found in Skilling that the honest-services statute applies only in cases involving bribes and kickbacks. The high court also used Skilling to establish a uniform national standard for honest-services fraud.
And that brings us to one of many oddities in Minor. At the time the case went to trial, the federal circuits were divided on the role alleged state-law violations play in prosecutions under the honest-services statute. In the Fifth Circuit, proof of a state-law violation was an indispensable element of the crime, under a case styled U.S. v. Brumley, 116 F. 3d 728 (5th Cir., 1997). In other circuits state law was irrelevant.
That was a problem because state bribery laws, for example, vary wildly. In fact, they vary wildly just among the three states that make up the Fifth Circuit. At the time of the Minor trial, a defendant could be found guilty of a federal crime, based on a state-law violation in Mississippi, while the same behavior would not allow for conviction next door in Louisiana.
One outcome of Skilling is that SCOTUS cleaned up this mess and established a uniform national standard for honest-services violations, drawing on federal statutes and not state laws.
And that is where comedy enters the picture. When Minor was argued before the Fifth Circuit, post Skilling, even the government conceded the new opinion had radically changed the playing field, meaning the trial-court's jury instructions now were incorrect. But the Fifth Circuit upheld the convictions anyway?
Albert Alschuler, the criminal-justice expert who prepared the pending Minor petition, seems baffled by that one. This is from page 5 of the Minor petition for certiorari:
The Fifth Circuit's error was especially egregious because the government expressly and repeatedly waived any claim that the district court's instructions were correct. Prior to Skilling, Minor sought interlocutory review of a Fifth Circuit decision affirming some of his convictions and reversing others. After he filed his petition but before the government responded, this Court decided Skilling. Citing Skilling, the government then declared, "The [district] court's reliance on state law was incorrect because the honest-services statute 'establish[es] a uniform national standard.'"
The government went on to acknowledge that the instructional error was "plain." But that still was not enough for the Fifth Circuit to overturn clearly wrongful convictions. Alschuler adds this in his brief, perhaps to drive home the absurdity:
The government made the same concession in its brief to the Fifth Circuit. It did so again in oral argument, even after a panel member declared that she was "sort of appalled" by the government's concession.
Yes, a member of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said she was "sort of appalled" because the government admitted a point of law that was beyond dispute. That's what passes for "jurisprudence" in postmodern federal courts.
The jury instructions at the Minor trial were hopelessly incorrect, on multiple grounds, long before Skilling came down. But the latest standard makes them even more wildly off target.
How goofy were the Minor jury instructions? The current petition before SCOTUS shines considerable light on that question. And that's where the comedy of errors continues.
(To be continued)
She was living in Charlottesville, Virginia, with Ted Rollins, and they soon would be married. That's when the strange words came via a phone call from Monica Bulich, the woman who had been married to Ted Rollins previously.
Sherry Rollins did not pick up on what she now believes was a warning that Ted Rollins' main interest was not her, but her two young sons from a previous marriage. She now believes that is why Ted Rollins was willing to marry her without a prenuptial agreement. And the lack of a prenup probably explains why Ted Rollins went to extraordinary lengths in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case to ensure that Sherry Rollins would receive almost nothing from the marital assets, even though she was entitled to an equitable share under the law.
The Rollinses wound up having a tumultuous 14-year marriage that ended with a divorce in 2005. Dissolution of the marriage came in Shelby County, Alabama, even though Sherry Rollins had initiated the proceedings in Greenville, South Carolina, where the family lived, and the case was litigated there for three years. Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, but he took it anyway and issued a judgment that was outlandishly favorable to Ted Rollins.
Court records strongly suggest that someone unlawfully paid Crowson under the table to issue a bogus divorce decree, leading to the worst courtroom cheat job I've encountered in the civil arena.
The unlawful outcome of Rollins v. Rollins becomes even more alarming when you consider that Ted Rollins, who belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest family, now is CEO of Campus Crest Communities. That company builds student housing near public universities around the country and has received more than $400 million in Wall Street backing. Ted Rollins' chief market is young people and their parents--even though he has a documented history of abusing young people.
Monica Bulich's words become prophetic when you realize that the Rollins marriage was marked by documented physical abuse of at least one of Sherry Rollins' sons. And Ms. Rollins has told Legal Schnauzer that she now believes her ex husband abused both of her sons.
It's undisputed that Ted Rollins was convicted in 1995 for assaulting his youngest stepson, Zac Parrish, who was 16 years old at the time. It's also undisputed that, two years earlier, North Carolina social services investigated Ted Rollins for child sexual abuse of the same stepson, based on a citizen complaint.
Did Monica Bulich, Ted Rollins' first wife, see this coming? Sherry Rollins now says she thinks the answer is yes.
These thoughts came to light when Ms. Rollins told me about a proposed prenuptial agreement that a family lawyer sent via fax the night before she and Ted Rollins were to leave for their wedding. The proposed prenup contained a number of extraordinary provisions--and it surfaced late, with no opportunity for negotiations--so Ms. Rollins refused to sign.
Here is how she recalls that moment, in a statement to Legal Schnauzer:
I remember when I read the prenup, I thought it was odd that he wanted control over my health care, and general power of attorney over me to sign any document for me. Had I realized and taken the time back then I would have realized the whole marriage was a trap.
I remembered once again Monica Bulich's words on the phone to me when I was living with Ted in Charlottesville: "I know what he wanted with me; you just have to ask yourself what he wants with you . . . an older woman with two kids and nothing. . . ."
Sherry Rollins found those words confusing at the time. But they are not so confusing anymore:
I think she knew he was gay or bi. I think she knew he was after my sons. Wish I could talk to her now that she is much older; she must be 50 by now. I wonder if she could shed some light on her life with [Ted].
Sherry Rollins probably was off target on the science of child molestation. Studies tend to show that gay and bisexual men are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest boys. That means Ted Rollins' sexual orientation probably was not a factor in interactions with his stepsons. A report from the University of California at Davis puts it this way:
The distinction between a victim's gender and a perpetrator's sexual orientation is important because many child molesters don't really have an adult sexual orientation. They have never developed the capacity for mature sexual relationships with other adults, either men or women. Instead, their sexual attractions focus on children--boys, girls, or children of both sexes.
Researchers label some offenders as "fixated" because their interest is almost exclusively in children. Others are termed "regressed" because they have attained some level of mature sexual expression, but return to primitive forms under certain conditions. Extreme stress, for example, can lead them to return to return to an earlier, less mature psychological state and engage in sexual contact with children. From the UC Davis report:
The important point is that many child molesters cannot be meaningfully described as homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals (in the usual sense of those terms) because they are not really capable of a relationship with an adult man or woman. Instead of gender, their sexual attractions are based primarily on age. These individuals--who are often characterized as fixated--are attracted to children, not to men or women.
The American Psychological Association put it this way, in a 2001 report:
Studies on who commits child sexual abuse vary in their findings, but the most common finding is that the majority of sexual offenders are family members or are otherwise known to the child. Sexual abuse by strangers is not nearly as common as sexual abuse by family members.
Research further shows that men perpetrate most instances of sexual abuse, but there are cases in which women are the offenders.
Despite a common myth, homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.
Sherry Rollins might not have the science quite right--and she is not alone in that--but she clearly wishes now that she had understood what Monica Bulich was trying to tell her. She also wonders what Ms. Bulich saw or heard that led her to speak up.
This much is certain: Sherry Rollins saw and heard a lot during her 14-year marriage to Ted Rollins. In a case of history repeating itself, she also passed along a warning about his behavior.
(To be continued)
|Roadblocks go up at VictoryLand|
Did the Alabama Supreme Court follow established law in ordering that the search warrant move forward?
Did Strange have valid grounds for filing a lawsuit, announced yesterday, with the aim of shutting down casinos operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians?
The answer to all three questions, based on our initial research, appears to be no. In light of yesterday's events, can Alabamians cite reasons to have faith in our chief law-enforcement officer and our highest court? I can't think of any.
According to press reports, Strange first sought a search warrant via Macon County Circuit Court, and his petition was denied due to lack of probable cause. He then sought an order through the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals that would force the Macon County court to issue the warrant--and that, too, was denied. Finally, the Alabama Supreme Court gave Strange what he wanted, forcing Macon County Circuit Judge Tom Young to issue the search warrant.
How did that happen? Strange sought an interlocutory order called a writ of mandamus, which is deemed under Alabama law an "extraordinary writ" that is to be issued only under limited circumstances. If granted, a writ of mandamus means a high court essentially tells a lower court, "You must take this action--now."
The procedure for seeking such a writ is governed by Rule 21 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, and two provisions seem particularly pertinent to the VictoryLand issue. Rule 21(a)(1) states:
Application for a writ of mandamus or of prohibition directed to a judge or judges shall be made by filing a petition with the clerk of the appellate court having jurisdiction thereof with certificate of service on the respondent judge or judges and on all parties to the action in the trial court.
VictoryLand appears to qualify as a party to the action, and that means it should have been served with a copy of the petition. Did that happen in this case? We've seen nothing in press reports that indicates it did.
More about the procedure governing a writ of mandamus is found at Rule 21(b):
If the court is of the opinion that the writ should not be granted, it shall deny the petition. Otherwise, it shall order that an answer to the petition be filed by the respondents within the time fixed by the order. . . . The clerk shall advise the parties of the dates on which briefs are to be filed, if briefs are required, and of the date of oral argument. The proceeding shall be given preference over ordinary civil cases.
Was VictoryLand given an opportunity to file an answer to Strange's petition? Was it given an opportunity to file briefs or engage in oral argument? We've seen no signs that it was. VictoryLand's rights appear to have been short-circuited in a unilateral process that is contrary to law.
Did the Alabama Supreme Court have grounds for granting Strange's petition? If so, we can't find them.
Denial of a search warrant is a proper subject for a mandamus petition. Ex Parte State of Alabama (In Re: State of Alabama v. A.R.C. (2003). But a high court is required to exercise considerable restraint in considering such a request. The general rule is as follows:
"Mandamus is a drastic and extraordinary writ to be issued only where there is a clear, legal right in the petitioner to the order sought; only where there is an imperative duty upon the respondent to perform, accompanied by a refusal to do so; only where there is a lack of another adequate remedy; and only where there is properly invoked jurisdiction of the court. Ex parte Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union, 477 So. 2d 379 (Ala. 1985)."
Did Luther Strange have "a clear, legal right" to a search warrant for VictoryLand? The circuit judge in Macon County did not think so, and a high court is to override him only under "drastic and extraordinary" circumstances. Case law makes it clear that a high court, on a mandamus petition, is not to substitute its judgment for that of a lower court:
Generally, the writ will not be used to control or review discretionary acts by a lower court. Ex parte Edwards, 20 Ala.App. 567, 568, 104 So. 53, 54 (1925).
The Alabama Supreme Court has enumerated a very few exceptions to this rule, and none of them appears to apply to the VictoryLand matter, especially in light of this overriding principle:
We state again that only the rarest of circumstances merit intervention by mandamus. . . . We also point out that circumstances involving alleged errors of judgment, or errors in the exercise of judicial discretion, would not constitute grounds for invoking supervisory mandamus. Ex parte Nice, 407 So.2d 874 (Ala., 1981)
We have not been able to review all of the documents in the VictoryLand petition, but Strange almost had to be claiming that the trial court made an error in judgment or in the exercise of judicial discretion. If that was the case, the Alabama Supreme Court had no lawful grounds for granting the petition.
As for Strange's lawsuit involving the Poarch Creek Indians, it can only be for show, distraction, or both. The Poarch Creeks are a federally recognized Indian tribe, operating as a sovereign nation with its own system of government and bylaws. And yet, Strange filed the case in state court.
How does Luther Strange figure that the State of Alabama has jurisdiction over the Poarch Creek Indians? That one is a head scratcher. Is it coincidence that Strange issued a press release on the Poarch Creek lawsuit on the same day he conducted a raid at VictoryLand? Probably not. One event apparently provided a smokescreen for the other.
What's a reasonable Alabamian to think? Well, our state has a "proud heritage" of electing public officials who are thugs, phonies, charlatans, or buffoons. Luther Strange seems determined to prove that he fits in all four categories.
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