Articles on this Page
- 06/28/17--09:25: _Ashley Madison cust...
- 06/29/17--04:17: _Blake M. Shuler, my...
- 06/29/17--09:02: _Luther Strange appe...
- 07/03/17--04:09: _America is heading ...
- 07/05/17--04:14: _Tuscaloosa County i...
- 07/05/17--11:45: _Legal Schnauzer pas...
- 07/06/17--04:17: _Missouri officers J...
- 07/06/17--09:02: _Multiple Alabama ca...
- 07/07/17--04:10: _Already tied to Bir...
- 07/10/17--04:26: _Disciplinary action...
- 07/11/17--04:19: _In Alabama, uncorro...
- 07/11/17--10:52: _Records indicate ou...
- 07/12/17--04:14: _Megan Rondini story...
- 07/12/17--11:30: _Ashley Madison cust...
- 07/13/17--04:08: _Stories of Missouri...
- 07/13/17--11:34: _With questions abou...
- 07/17/17--04:20: _Medical records rev...
- 07/17/17--10:10: _Parent company of T...
- 07/18/17--04:02: _Severity of Carol's...
- 07/18/17--11:02: _Michael E. Stephens...
|Ron and Leigh Ten Berge|
Ron Ten Berge was named president and general manager of PRADCO Outdoor Brands, a wholly owned subsidiary of EBSCO, in January 2013. According to an industry-magazine report in December 2014, Ten Berge had stepped down. From Fishing Tackle Retailer:
President and General Manager of PRADCO Outdoor Brands, Ron Ten Berge, is out effective December 15. Ten Berge joined the company in October 2012 after five years at Yakima and four with Pure Fishing. The official release from ESBSCO, PRADCO’s parent company, is mum on the details of the breakup. Tim Collins, the freshly-coined CEO of EBSCO, who assumed his role in July, illuminated only that PRADCO has seen quality control issues under Ten Berge’s leadership.
Ten Berge has landed as CEO1st Executive Partner at Frontenac Private Equity, of Chicago. Ten Berge apparently still lives in Birmingham, and his personal bottom line seems to be fine. He and his family are members of Greystone Country Club. On his LinkedIn page, Ten Berge describes his alliance with Frontenac:
Frontenac and I have partnered together to jointly pursue new investment opportunities in the consumer enthusiast markets, including outdoor and auto enthusiasts. We aim to create a solution that provides liquidity for selling shareholders, plus growth capital, operational resources, and executive support required to achieve the company’s vision. Our complementary operating and financial skills make us differentiated partners. . . .
Categories include, but are not limited to:
➢ Fishing ➢ Cycling
➢ Trail Sports ➢ Camping
➢ Hunting ➢ Camping
➢ Water Sports ➢ Snow Sports
➢ Wildlife Viewing ➢ Auto Accessories
Ten Berge provides insight about Frontenanc's "CEO-centric approach":
Frontenac is a leading private equity firm, based in Chicago. The firm focuses on investing in lower middle market buyout transactions in the food, industrial, and services industries. Frontenac works in partnership with proven operating leaders, through our executive-centric approach called CEO1ST, to identify, acquire, and build market leading companies through transformational acquisitions and operational excellence. The firm has built a leading franchise working with over 225 owners of mid-sized businesses, almost always families or founders, as they address complex transition issues of liquidity, management enhancement, and growth planning.
Ten Berge has a wealth of experience in a diversified industry that tends to produce plenty of revenue (Note: I grew up and live in Springfield, Missouri, home to Bass Pro Shops, so I have a better-than-average idea of how robust these companies can be.) From Ten Berge's LinkedIn profile:
I am an inspirational Executive Management Professional with career experience at leading consumer and sporting goods organizations including Kraft Foods, Frito-Lay, Wrigley, and PRADCO Outdoor Brands. I offer exceptional knowledge of marketing and the ability to align all functional business units surrounding business goals. By establishing effective strategies to guide businesses, I have delivered unprecedented growth levels, attaining record-setting results in key performance metrics throughout career.
Sounds like a smart guy. So, why wasn't he smart enough to steer clear of a sleazy outfit like Ashley Madison? That's not clear, but Ten Berge appears to have an enviable family life. His Facebook page is filled with family photos, including two children (Kyle and Megan Ten Berge, a University of Alabama nursing graduate; Kyle is a medic in the U.S. Army), as is the Facebook page for his wife, Leigh Ten Berge (who runs the Great Clips hair salon in Vestavia Hills).
|The Ten Berge family|
The litany of brands that Ten Berge oversaw is mind-boggling. It reads like a who’s who of lure manufacturers in not only fishing, but hunting as well:
In fishing, REBEL, Booyah, YUM!, Lindy, Bandit, Bomber, Bomber Saltwater, Arbogast, Cotton Cordell, Creek Chub, Lazy Ike, Little Joe, Silver Thread, Thill, Smithwick and XCalibur. Add hunting brands Moultrie, Summit, Knight and Hale and Code Blue to that list and you not only begin to understand the depth of that task, but the powerful impact the position holds within our retail industry.
We sought comment from Ron Ten Berge for this post, but he has not responded to our queries.
On my side of the family, I had not been aware of anyone who had committed a crime. But that changed recently, and since I've reported dozens of posts about misconduct in other people's families, it seemed only fair to report on bad behavior in mine.
My nephew, Blakely "Blake" Myers Shuler, was arrested on March 20, 2016, and charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia. Blake is the 25-year-old son of my brother, Paul, who works as a radiology technician at Mercy Hospital in Springfield. I'm not sure if Blake works, but he was arrested in the small town of Clever, MO.
There is little doubt that the IND and DIS lawsuit was the idea of my brother lawyer, David Shuler, and Paul probably went along with it. Since discovering David's vile, nasty letter that he wrote to the judge in our eviction case, I'm not surprised at any underhanded stunt he might pull. (The letter is embedded at the end of this post.) I've long thought Paul probably was cut from a little better cloth than David was, but I've seen evidence that suggests that is not the case, and we will be reporting on that shortly.
Paul's IND and DIS lawsuit was dismissed, by the way, so even his own attorney decided there was no legitimate case there. For the anonymous commenters who periodically crawl out from under a rock to claim I've never won a lawsuit, here is evidence that they are wrong. Carol and I won the IND and DIS lawsuit against us, and it wasn't even close. For the record, we would have won every legal matter that involved us if they had been managed by honest judges, who actually followed the written law. Such judges, as many of our readers know from personal experience, are hard to find.
More importantly, if the first legal action involving us -- filed AGAINST us by Mike McGarity, a neighbor with a lengthy criminal record -- had been decided correctly under the law, none of the other cases would have happened.
As for Blake Shuler, records show he initially pleaded guilty to the two charges against him. My brother, David, eventually represented him. and via some peculiar legal maneuvering, Blake got the drug charges dropped and pleaded guilty to "peace disturbance" -- even though there is zero evidence in the record that he disturbed the peace.
Either way, my nephew has a criminal record -- even though it's for something he didn't do, and charges were dropped on what he apparently did do. Perhaps my brother, Paul, should have been paying more attention to his own son and spending less time filing bogus lawsuits against Carol and me.
Is there irony in all of this? Yes, indeed. Regular readers know that I was arrested ("kidnapped" is the more accurate term, given no warrant ever has surfaced) and thrown in the Shelby County, Alabama, Jail for a five-month stay, from Oct. 23, 2013 to March 26, 2014. There is one caveat to that story: I never committed a crime and never was charged with a crime. My arrest was based on alleged "contempt of court" based on failure to abide by a preliminary injunction in a defamation lawsuit (a 100 percent civil matter). Such injunctions have been unlawful under the First Amendment for more than 200 years, but word of that apparently has not reached the corrupt swamp of Alabama.
Public documents show that we never were lawfully served with the complaint, and we were not summoned to appear in court until well after the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction had already been issued. It's funny when I think how many times contrarian commenters have said things like, "Why didn't you appear in court?" Well, last time I checked, most people don't appear in court when they haven't been summoned.
|U.S. Post Office in Clever, MO|
Did Carol actually commit an offense? Anyone can view the Probable Cause Statement and Misdemeanor Information in her case -- they are public documents -- and see they present zero admissible evidence that she violated any law. Missouri Circuit Judge Margaret Holden Palmietto dismissed the trespass charge, and the "assault" charge should be tossed soon. But for now, Carol still is having to fight a charge for which there is no evidence, not even enough to meet the low threshold of probable cause.
Let's close by considering a couple of other points of irony:
(1) My brother, David, came to the legal aid of Blake Shuler in a drug-possession case -- as he should have, in my view -- but David hasn't lifted a finger to help Carol and me, legally. In fact, the letter embedded below shows he has gone out of his way to hurt us. No member of my family has even inquired about Carol's well-being or voiced the slightest concern about what happened to her, the victim of gross police abuse.
(2) While corrupt cops, lawyers, and judges have made it appear via the Web that Carol and I have engaged in criminal activity, their own documents show that we haven't. So how ironic is it that Blake Shuler -- the son of my brother who tried to have Carol and me committed -- came along to produce a genuine criminal record to go under the Shuler family name?
Yep, the Shulers no longer can claim to have kept their distance from true criminal activity -- and that has nothing to do with Carol or me.
On a broader note, I know from my own five months in jail, that marijuana possession is one of our most frequently prosecuted crimes. Possession and probation violations -- with inmates often being on probation for possession -- were the two most common reasons people were in jail during my stay in Shelby County, Alabama. (I was the only inmate I could find who was in jail for blogging.)
A legitimate debate can be had about whether marijuana possession should be a crime at all. That's an issue for another day, but for now, public documents in the Blake M. Shuler case provide a rare inside glimpse of how a possession case can unfold in the Heartland. It shows how our "justice system," even in a tiny outpost like Clever, MO, can become fundamentally dishonest when a lawyer enters the picture.
We sought comment for this post from Blake Shuler, his parents, and his lawyer, but they have not responded to our queries.
(To be continued)
|Luther Strange and Jessica Garrison|
The scandal already has ensnared former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham), who agreed to plead guilty last week to bribery, conspiracy, and other federal charges. John Archibald, a columnist for al.com, wrote yesterday that the scandal could go way beyond Robinson, perhaps unmasking the law firms/lobbyists (Balch and Bingham) and corporate entities (Drummond Coal, Alabama Power, etc.) who have been at the center of Alabama's toxic political environment for decades.
Strange's connection helps bring the story close to home for your humble blogger. For one, Strange is a defendant in a pending federal lawsuit over the wrongful foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham. He likely will be added as a defendant in a second pending federal lawsuit, regarding my unlawful arrest and incarceration in Shelby County.
Jessica Medeiros Garrison, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, is lead defendant in "The House Case" -- and where did she work until recently? That would be Balch and Bingham, the downtown Birmingham law firm that seems to be up to its neck in the superfund scandal.
How did Garrison, a relatively young attorney with thin credentials, obtain an "of counsel" position at Balch and Bingham? Why does she no longer appear on Balch's roster of attorneys? How did she come to purchase an $835,000 house last year from an Alabama Power executive? How is Garrison paying for her snazzy Mountain Brook digs, now that she is out at Balch and Bingham, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), and the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), which once seemed to be her main sources of gainful employment?
On a personal level, did Garrison and Strange engage in criminal behavior related to the glorified theft of our house, perhaps determined to make sure I was not in Alabama to report on the superfund scandal when it bubbled to the surface? Were they also involved in criminal behavior related to my unlawful incarceration, perhaps in conjunction with their political cohorts -- Bill Pryor, Jeff Sessions, Rob Riley, and other GOP luminaries? Were they connected to our unlawful eviction, which seems driven by someone's desire to make sure we stayed in Missouri, and left my wife, Carol, with a shattered left arm -- courtesy of thuggish Greene County deputies?
We will be looking for an answer to those questions. But, for now, let's focus on Luther Strange's connections to the superfund scandal. Writes Josh Moon, of APR:
State Rep. John Rogers told federal investigators that he was approached by executives from Drummond Coal and then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and offered what Rogers considered a bribe if he would lead the state’s and Drummond’s efforts against the EPA’s cleanup of a superfund pollution site in north Birmingham, a source close to Rogers told APR.
Asked about the allegations, Rogers declined to confirm them, saying he didn’t want to talk about it “yet, because it’s too volatile.”
“I don’t want to get into that stuff right now,” Rogers said. “You have to be careful about that. These people are dangerous. I’ll keep that to myself until a later time.”
"These people are dangerous." What a curious thing for John Rogers to say. My response? Tell me about it. Here is more from Josh Moon:
According to the source, Rogers said he was offered control of a “super PAC or non-profit” into which Drummond Coal and other entities would contribute money in exchange for Rogers speaking out against the 35th Avenue superfund site and working to keep the EPA from assigning the area to the National Priority List.
Designating the area in north Birmingham a superfund site allowed the EPA to do testing in the area and start a process of identifying “potentially responsible parties” that caused the environmental damage. Levels of toxins in that 35th Avenue area have so far exceeded acceptable levels that the top layers of hundreds of residents’ yards have been removed.
Under EPA rules, responsible parties are on the hook for the cost of cleanup at superfund sites, meaning Drummond Coal, Alagasco, ABC Coke, U.S. Pipe and KMAC were potentially on the hook for around $20 million for the site cleanup.
As for John Archibald, he says the superfund scandal could be much bigger than most Alabamians realize. He says it could become "Alabama's Watergate":
This -- this is far bigger that Robinson. Or it could be. In his indictment, the feds point to Balch and Bingham and Drummond Co. as bribers. If proven, it'll be a body check to the very systems that run Alabama politics and fund the ugliest parts of them.
It just depends on what Robinson will spill to keep his sentence to a minimum.
It depends on what the unnamed co-conspirators at Drummond and Balch are willing to say, and whether the actions outlined in the federal documents can be quarantined.
Because these players -- and those they associate with -- provide the grease that makes Alabama run.
That grease, of course, does not make Alabama run well. The grease just makes everything it touches slimy. This now has national and international implications. Lawyers from Balch and Bingham are closely aligned with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, now at the heart of the Trump/Russia scandal, which could bring down a presidency. Writes Archibald:
Balch and Bingham is one of Alabama's most powerful firms. You can't follow a political story -- as the recent drama at the state board of education shows -- without tripping on a Balch lawyer or lobbyist.
Gov. Kay Ivey just appointed Balch lawyer Will Sellers - a longtime confidante - to the Alabama Supreme Court. And several Balch lawyers sit in positions to advise U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Balch and Drummond both contribute heavily to political campaigns inside and out of Alabama. Each gave more than $215,000 in last year's federal election cycle, which was enough to put them in the state's top 10 donors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
But this is not just about those tainted by the Oliver Robinson scandal. This is about the way political money is spent.
Both Balch and Drummond have substantial ties to another Top 10 giver -- Southern Company, parent to Alabama Power.
No matter how ugly the superfund scandal gets, it could prove to be the best thing that has happened to Alabama in a long time -- especially if it pulls the mask off slime balls like Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison, Jeff Sessions, and a few of the state's many corrupt lawyers. Write Archibald:
What is clear is that money from entities supportive of coal and power - and other interests -- have flowed through Balch and into the hands of those who change opinions. Balch has employed . . . Matrix group, which worked with entities such as the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), which lobbied hard in 2013 to prevent the Public Service Commission from holding formal utility rate hearings -- which Alabama Power opposed.
Understand, Alabama. What happened in north Birmingham is not about Birmingham. What happened to Robinson is not just about Robinson.
Alabama's political status quo is at risk. For the first time in a long time.
That's a good thing.
|Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange|
Jessica Medeiros Garrison's social-media profile takes a hit
We reported late last week that Jessica Medeiros Garrison, one-time campaign manager and mistress for former Alabama Attorney General and current U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, had left her "of counsel" role at Balch and Bingham amid news reports about Strange and the Balch law firm having connections to Birmingham's burgeoning Superfund bribery scandal.
The next day, al.com reported that Garrison had left Balch in May. That came in a story, titled "Will Jeff Sessions' Balch connections hang up corruption probe," in which reporter Kyle Whitmire notes that the Trump attorney general has close ties to Balch, and those could prove troublesome as a federal investigation moves forward.
Now, we learn that Garrison's social-media presence largely is no more. Her LinkedIn page remains, but her Facebook and Twitter accounts have gone dark. What does this mean? We're not sure, but it suggests that Balch and Big Lutha are in hot water -- and Jessica likely is in there, too.
Given Garrison's documented ties to organized crime, it never surprises us when we see signs that she is tied to corruption. And this could be getting deeply personal for your humble blogger. Documents from the bogus Missouri "assault" case against my wife, Carol, tied to our unlawful eviction in September 2015, show that members of my own family have taken extraordinary trips to stab Carol and me in the back.
Does that simply mean my relatives, particularly my brothers David and Paul, have become monumental dirt bags? That could be. But I long have suspected there is a "corruption highway" that has followed us from Alabama to Missouri, via a conduit that wanted to make sure I could not defend myself in certain courtroom matters (such as the defamation case that resulted in a $3.5-million default judgment for . . . Jessica Garrison; that judgment is void, as a matter of law, but I'm stuck in Missouri, unable to take care of it) or would not be in Alabama to report on bubbling dirt, such as the Superfund scandal.
If such a conduit exists, I long have suspected that Jessica Garrison is part of it. Now evidence is mounting that Garrison, with her ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families, is going underground as light increasingly shines on the Superfund bribery scandal.
State Rep. John Rogers also goes underground as Superfund scandal generates heat
Jessica Garrison isn't the only one to go underground as the Superfund scandal heats up. So has State Rep. John Rogers -- sort of.
The scandal turned in Luther Strange's direction last Thursday, thanks to an Alabama Political Reporter (APR) story in which a source said Strange was present when a Drummond Coal representative offered Rogers a bribe.
Later that day, Rogers was to appear with U.S. Senate candidate Randy Brinson at a press conference in Montgomery to "out" Strange. Rogers failed to show, and according to APR's Josh Moon, he also started back tracking on the Superfund/Strange story. Wrote Moon, in a story titled "John Rogers' very curious 24 hours":
Rogers twice told the same story, Brinson said. He was offered control of a super PAC in exchange for fighting the superfund and Strange was present.
Again, Rogers was angry about it all. So much so that he agreed to appear with Brinson at a Thursday press conference to “out Strange.”
Rogers even organized the press conference at a Birmingham church, Brinson said.
So, why was Brinson left almost literally standing at the alter by himself in that church on Thursday afternoon, while at the same time Rogers was telling a TV reporter that Strange wasn’t present at the meeting where the bribe was offered?
“He was scared,” Brinson said. “When he called me Thursday, his voice was shaking. It wasn’t the same John Rogers. Something happened between Wednesday and Thursday and it scared him.”
Did someone threaten Rogers or those close to him? Rogers had told APR for its Thursday story that he did not want to talk on the record because "these people are dangerous." Rogers answered the phone when Moon called him on Thursday evening, but proceeded to talk mostly in circles. From Moon's Friday story:
I asked Rogers why he was telling people now that Strange wasn’t present, Rogers first told me he never said it to me. For the next several minutes, I recapped our conversations from the day before.
When I finished, Rogers said, simply, “I’m sorry.”
I asked him what happened, if someone had convinced him to change his story. He stammered for a couple of seconds, said he didn’t think so, then no, then said he had to go.
“It is frightening to contemplate the powerful forces who so rattled (Rogers) that he recanted his confirmation of facts reported by APR concerning an attempted bribe,” APR publisher Bill Britt said. “Screaming ‘fake news’ as Sen. Strange has done is standard fare these days, but it’s very disconcerting when a public official – one who turned down the bribe and worked for his constituents – is so scared that he takes these actions. It’s an affront to American principles and Alabama values.”
A lot of things have happened in Alabama over the past 20-plus years that are an affront to American principles. Alabama courts, both state and federal, routinely turn out judgments that are an affront to our constitution. I was kidnapped from my home by law enforcement and tossed in jail for a five-month stay -- for reporting on this blog about political and court-related corruption in Alabama.
Bill Britt is correct to use the term "frightening," and I know about that in an up-close-and-personal way. John Rogers likely is getting a taste of it now.
Bill Pryor supports dishonesty from law enforcement
U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor perhaps is best known for two things: (1) Once being Donald Trump's No. 1 pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, but finishing no higher than third; and (2) Appearing in the "full monty" for photographs from his college days that wound up on the gay-porn super site badpuppy.com.
From a legal standpoint, Pryor might now best be known for signing off on an opinion that allows law-enforcement officers to conduct searches under false pretenses. In other words, it's fine for cops to lie in order to get into your home. Gee, that's just what we need -- more reasons for the public not to trust cops.
The case, decided last week, is styled United States v. Eric Spivey, et al. Here's how the Atlanta-based Daily Report Online describes it:
Judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit revealed a deep divide Wednesday over what constitutes a legal search.
Judge William Pryor, whom President Donald Trump recently considered for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, wrote the majority opinion signing off on a search that police initiated under false pretenses.
Judge Beverly Martin wrote a sharply worded dissent saying the search in the case before them was not the kind of reasonable search the founders had in mind when they wrote the Fourth Amendment.
The third member of the panel broke the tie. Judge Danny Boggs of the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation, sided with Pryor.
What was the "legal reasoning" that decided the case? From the Daily Report's Katheryn Hayes Tucker:
"This appeal presents the question whether deception by law enforcement necessarily renders a suspect's consent to a search of a home involuntary," Pryor wrote in his introduction.
As Pryor went on to explain, Eric Spivey and Chenequa Austin had twice reported to police burglaries of their Lauderhill, Florida, home.
"Two officers, one posing as a crime-scene technician, came to their house on the pretense of following up on the burglaries, but mainly, unbeknownst to them, to investigate them for suspected fraud," Pryor wrote. The couple let the police in without a warrant.
What the couple did not know was that police had already caught the burglar, who told them the home had evidence of credit card fraud and so much expensive merchandise such as iPads and designer shoes that he had to go back for more. The couple also didn't know the officers were really agents with the South Florida Organized Fraud Task Force. The agents found stacks of credit cards, card readers and an embossing machine, as well as a lot more high-end merchandise.
Ultimately, the pair pleaded guilty to credit card fraud related charges, conditioned on the right to pursue an appeal of the denial of their motion to suppress evidence. Pryor and Boggs upheld Judge William Dimitrouleas of the Southern District of Florida.
Pryor said the police officers'"ruse" was a "relatively minor deception that created little, if any, coercion."
Pryor admits the officers engaged in a "ruse," but he found it was OK because it was a "relatively minor deception." And some Americans wonder how we are headed toward a police state? Dissenting judge Beverly Martin, who was nominated to the federal bench by Bill Clinton and promoted to the appellate bench by Barack Obama, found Pryor's ruling abhorrent:
The ruse was not minor to Martin. Instead of a warrant, she wrote, the officers entered the home with a plan to "get around the Fourth Amendment's protections" to guarantee the right of people to be secure in their homes.
"This litigation could have easily been avoided. Instead of planning their ruse, the officers could have gotten a warrant," Martin wrote. "I am concerned that the majority opinion blesses the deliberate circumvention of constitutional protections, and in this way undermines the public trust in police. I therefore dissent."
How perverse was Pryor's opinion? Here is more from Judge Martin's dissent:
The two officers here had no warrant allowing their entry into the home of Eric Spivey and Chenequa Austin. Instead, they had a plan to get around the Fourth Amendment’s protections. They lied about their legal authority. They lied about their real reason for being there. And they took advantage of a public trust in law enforcement in order to search the Spivey/Austin home without a warrant. When Ms. Austin learned the true purpose of the officers’ presence in her home, she stopped cooperating immediately. Based on all the circumstances of her case, it is clear to me that Ms. Austin’s permission for the officers to enter her home was not voluntarily given.
Martin goes on to highlight the profound constitutional issues in play, the ones Pryor seems to shrug off:
The Fourth Amendment generally prohibits officers from searching a person’s home without a warrant. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 586, 100 S. Ct. 1371, 1380 (1980) (“[S]earches and seizures inside a home without a warrant are presumptively unreasonable.”). One exception to the warrant requirement is where the person voluntarily gives consent for the officers to search. Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 181, 110 S. Ct. 2793, 2797 (1990). The question before us here is whether Ms. Austin’s consent for the officers to search her home was voluntary. . . .
Eleventh Circuit precedent about consenting to a search emphasizes that the use of deception to get consent violates the Fourth Amendment because it is an “abuse” of the public’s trust in law enforcement. See id.; see also SEC v. ESM Gov’t Sec., Inc., 645 F.2d 310, 316 (5th Cir. Unit B May 18, 1981). . . .
Considering the totality of the circumstances under the standards set by our precedent, Ms. Austin’s consent was not voluntary. The officers used deceit, trickery, and misrepresentation to hide the true nature and purpose of their investigation as well as the authority they had to investigate the burglaries. This deception caused Ms. Austin to allow the officers into her home. And when the officers revealed the ruse to Ms. Austin, she immediately stopped cooperating.
Pryor, of course, was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush. Danny Julian Boggs, who joined him on the ruling, was appointed by Ronald Reagan.
As Americans worry about the latest on "Mika and Morning Joe," their rights to be protected from the actions of rogue cops are being eaten away -- with the help of a corrupt con man from Alabama named Bill Pryor.
Rondini, an Austin, Texas, native who had been a student at the University of Alabama, eventually committed suicide after law-enforcement and university officials reacted with indifference to her allegations against T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn Jr., a member of the family behind ST Bunn Construction Co.
Rondini's parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against UA and the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office. Among the defendants is investigator Adam Jones, who based on news account, gave Rondini a inaccurate portrayal of Alabama law, apparently to support his finding that she had no rape case against "Sweet Tea" Bunn.
Birmingham attorney Leroy Maxwell Jr. represents the Bunn family. Here is a link to a report about the lawsuit yesterday by reporter Mary Kekatos, at UK Daily Mail. (A copy of the complaint is embedded at the end of this post.)
According to BuzzFeed News, which broke the story after it had gone unnoticed by Alabama's mainstream press, Jones did not pursue the case because Rondini did not "earnestly resist" Bunn. Specifically, Jones determined no rape occurred because Rondini had not "hit or kicked" Bunn. From the BuzzFeed article, by Katie J.M. Baker:
Eventually, Jones returned to Megan’s rape allegations. “Based on your statements to me, you said that you never resisted him,” he said.
“I did resist him,” Megan said, listing the ways she did, from repeatedly telling Bunn she wanted to leave to turning away when he kissed her. “I wanted to go home,” she said. “He didn’t take me home.”
“Look at it from my side,” Jones replied calmly. “You never kicked him or hit him or tried to resist him.”
Jones shows here that, like a lot of cops, he does not know the law. That can be dangerous for many victims; it helped cost Megan Rondini her life.
Rape in the first degree is described at Code of Alabama 13A-6-61 as follows:
Rape in the first degree
(a) A person commits the crime of rape in the first degree if:
(1) He or she engages in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion.
"Forcible compulsion" is a key component of rape cases in many states. Here is what it means in Alabama:
Forcible compulsion is physical force that overcomes earnest resistance, or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of immediate death or serious physical injury to himself/herself or another person. [13A-6-60(8)]
Alabama is one of the few states where "earnest resistance" remains a part of its rape statute. So investigator Jones was correct to cite the term to Megan Rondini. But he was wrong about its meaning.
|T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn|
`"Earnest resistance" is likewise a relative term, and when determining whether there was earnest resistance, the relative strength of the victim and the defendant, the victim's age, the victim's physical and mental condition, and the degree of force employed must be considered.'C.M. v. State, 889 So. 2d at 64 (citing Richards v. State, 475 So. 2d 893, 895 (Ala. Crim. App. 1985))."
As you can see, there is nothing here about a requirement to "kick or hit" the alleged attacker. Megan Rondini likely was smaller and less strong than "Sweet Tea" Bunn, she was younger than Mr. Bunn, evidence suggests alcohol had left her in a compromised physical and mental state, and Mr. Bunn allegedly pulled on her clothing, even after she said she did not want to have sex with him and wanted to go home.
Under Alabama law, Adam Jones had more than enough evidence to bring a solid rape case. It appears he simply did not want to.
We have found other case law that throws a wrench into Jones' contention that a rape victim must "kick or hit" her alleged attacker in order to bring a criminal case in Alabama. We will address that in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)
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Both are pretty neat when you consider that I started this little enterprise with the idea that it probably would last a year or so.
Along the way, we have . . .
* Been named among the top 50 law blogs in North America, the only truly independent blog on the list. All the others are connected to law firms, law schools, legal associations, media groups, or public-affairs organizations.
* Played a lead role in the ousting of corrupt political figures, such as Alabama "Luv Guv" Robert Bentley and his mistress "Home Wrecky Becky" Caldwell Mason, plus former U.S. Judge Mark Fuller. We played a supporting role in the investigative journalism that led to the conviction of former House Speaker Mike Hubbard.
* More than any other news site, we've exposed the hypocrisy of "family values" conservatives, reporting on the extramarital affairs and financial shenanigans involving U.S. Sen. Luther Strange and Jessica Medeiros Garrison; GOP operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke, and the fully nude, gay-porn photographs of U.S. Judge Bill Pryor, Our coverage of the Strange/Garrison and Riley/Duke stories are part of pending federal lawsuits.
* On a story that has international implications, we've reported on Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his history of corrupt actions dating back more than 20 years in Alabama. If the Trump administration goes down because of the KremlinGate scandal, Sessions likely will be in the middle of it.
As for our milestones, they start with our first post, which was titled "Is 'Your Honor' Really Honorable?" and published on June 3, 2007. Some 3,378 posts later, we are still cranking out the kind of investigative journalism that is found at very few news outlets in Alabama, or anywhere else. For the record, I think the coming weeks and months will bring some of the most explosive reports in our history.
We're not certain when we passed 3 million page views, but the current number from the primary statistics service that we use is at 3,063,424. Our all-time unique visits are at roughly 2.19 million.
For reasons I don't fully understand, our second stat service (which is Google based) provides significantly different numbers. It has our all-time page views at 5.6 million, which means we passed 3 million there a long time ago. I didn't sign up for the first stat service until I had been blogging for several months, while the second one is attached to the blogging platform itself, and that might explain part of the difference. But on a daily basis, the Google-based counter provides a number that is roughly 1,000 higher than the independent counter.
Never have figured out why that happens. I like the Google numbers better, but I tend to look at the independent numbers as the official count for Legal Schnauzer.
The numbers show that our readership is growing substantially. After starting the blog on June 3, 2007, we reached 1 million page views on or about July 15, 2011. We reached 2 million page views on or about February 25, 2015. I'm publishing this post about hitting 3 million page views on July 5, 2017.
That means it took a little more than 4 years to reach 1 million, another 3 1/2 years to reach 2 million, and another 2 1/2 years to reach 3 million. That indicates there is a serious appetite for the kind of journalism we produce at Legal Schnauzer -- and I would say that's a good thing, especially given that we might be heading into an era of public corruption that will be unlike anything this country ever has seen. And much of it likely has ties to Alabama.
In the end, these milestones remind us of that classic philosophical question: "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Our version of that question: "If a journalist writes a blog and no one reads it, does it make an impact?"
Legal Schnauzer clearly has made an impact, largely because of readers who follow and support us, and sources who help inform us. Regular readers know that our kind of unbridled journalism comes with a price, especially in red states like Alabama and Missouri, where corruption flows like a river.
In October 2013, I was kidnapped by "law enforcement" from inside our home in Birmingham and tossed in jail for five months. In essence, I was arrested for blogging, reporting on the gross corruption that only recently has caught the attention of the state's somnolent mainstream press. In summer 2014, forced from our home by a wrongful foreclosure, Carol and I landed in Springfield, Missouri, where I grew up. In September 2015, we were the targets of an unlawful eviction, which included cops pointing assault rifles at my head and shattering Carol's left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery.
It seems clear that both of these events were attempts to shut down Legal Schnauzer. But we are still here, and our readership is growing. The thugs have failed, in the face of devoted, intelligent, and thoughtful readers.
For your gracious support, we offer our most sincere thanks. And we invite you to stick around for the next 3 million page views.
|Officer Jeremy Lynn|
We are in the process of providing just that kind of inside information about our unlawful eviction in 2015, which led to cops breaking my wife, Carol's, left arm. Do you believe that the role of cops is to "serve and protect"? We will show that they might be just as likely to brutalize the innocent and then conduct a coordinated fabrication campaign in an effort to get away with it.
We already have shown that Officers Debi Wade and Scott Harrison filed written statements that essentially claim Carol broke her own arm by thrashing about in the back of a patrol car after being arrested and handcuffed. (See here and here.) Two other officers, Jeremy Lynn and Christian Conrad, also provided written accounts of events related to our eviction. Their statements are not as detailed as the other two, but they still provide evidence that point to a cop cover-up.
First, let's look at words from Jeremy Lynn. He's the guy, according to cops, Carol pushed as he barged into our apartment without lawful grounds for doing so. We will pick up where Lynn is describing the moments just after three cops had encircled Carol, slammed her butt-first to the ground, and yanked on her arms so viciously in an up and backwards motion that it shattered her left arm. Lynn, of course, is not about to admit cops broke Carol's arm, so he joins in the parade of pathological lying:
Mrs. Shuler then sunk to the ground and sat. Lt. Conrad then retrieved Deputy Harrison's car. He pulled it up in the driveway and Deputy Harrison escorted her to the vehicle. She continued to pull away and resist walking to the car.
Once in the vehicle, she became volatile again, thrusting herself all over in the vehicle in the caged area, and I could hear her yelling and cursing from the street.
We then notified the landlord who was watching this transpire from across the street that they could take control of the property, and we were leaving.
Mrs. Shuler was transported to the Jail for assault on an LEO. Once at the Jail, Deputy Harrison stated she began to complain of her arm hurting. She was then taken to Cox to be cleared for confinement. Once there, he learned that her arm was broken.
Now, a few words from Officer Christian Conrad. We'll pick up as Conrad describes what happened immediately after cops burst through our front door:
The female was later identified as Carol T. Shuler (01/13/60), and the male was identified as Roger Shuler. Both were taken outside and sat in the front yard. The male was cooperative, but argued with Sheriff Arnott and Captain Lynn about the validity of the removal.
Once both individuals calmed down and were handcuffed, Capt. Lynn, Lt. Wade, and Deputy Harrison allowed Carol to pack their personal belongings, as well as their cats. Once Carol finished packing, Roger got inside his vehicle to leave. Carol came out near the garage door and attempted to push her way back into the house. Lynn, Wade, and Harrison began moving her out of the garage when she began screaming out of control, "Just shoot me." She went outside throwing her hands up in the air.
Carol then went out to their vehicle and placed another bag in the trunk. She then began walking back towards the house and took off running towards the front door. Carol ran toward Lt. Wade on the front sidewalk. Wade put her arms up to avoid being struck by Carol. She attempted to push Wade out of the way. Deputy Harrison, Lynn, and I ran and attempted to take Carol into custody again. I informed her repeatedly to stop fighting and causing an incident. At this point, I informed her she was under arrest for assault.
Carol fought us again until she was handcuffed. Once handcuffed, she sat down on the grass and said she was done fighting. I asked her if she was OK, and she said her shoulders were sore from being handcuffed the first time.
I retrieved Deputy Harrison's patrol vehicle where Harrison placed her in the caged area. I then informed Mr. Shuler to leave the property and not return or he would be arrested for trespassing. No further investigation.
Notice that Conrad does not say a word about Carol flailing about in the backseat of the patrol car. Conrad claims he placed Carol under arrest for "assault," even though it was Sheriff Arnott who did that. Ironically, Conrad presents zero evidence that Carol even touched an officer, much less assaulted one. It's also odd that Conrad brings his statement to an abrupt halt, not even mentioning that cops later learned Carol's arm had been broken.
Is that because Conrad's colleagues, in their written statements, hint that he was the one who broke Carol's left arm? We're not sure about that. But we are sure that we can prove these accounts, essentially claiming that Carol broke her own arm, are false.
That will be in upcoming posts.
(To be continued)
The Megan Rondini story in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, provides a grim reminder of just how true that second statement can be. Adam Jones, an investigator with the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Office, cited a blatantly incorrect version of Alabama law, in an apparent attempt to bring Rondini's rape claim against T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn to a standstill. Likely in frustration and despair -- understandably convinced that no one in authority around the University of Alabama was willing to stand up to a member of a wealthy and influential family -- Rondini returned to her home state of Texas and took her own life.
According to the BuzzFeed News report that broke Rondini's story into the open, Jones told the 20-year-old UA student that she had no criminal case against Bunn because she did not "earnestly resist" by "kicking or hitting" him. Alabama rape law does include an "earnest resistance" component, which many states have removed from their statutes, but it does not mean what Jones claims.
A case styled Lucas v. State of Alabama (Ala. Ct. of Crim. App., 2016), the most recent case to address "earnest resistance" under Alabama law, makes it clear that Jones, either intentionally or out of ignorance, was way off base. From Lucas:
`"Earnest resistance" is likewise a relative term, and when determining whether there was earnest resistance, the relative strength of the victim and the defendant, the victim's age, the victim's physical and mental condition, and the degree of force employed must be considered.'C.M. v. State, 889 So. 2d at 64 (citing Richards v. State, 475 So. 2d 893, 895 (Ala. Crim. App. 1985))."
Lucas is not the only Alabama case that shows Jones is full of barnyard excrement. A case styled Rudolph v. State, 200 So. 3d 1186 (Ala. Crim. App., 2015) does the same thing.
First, we should note that Code of Alabama 13A-6-61 deals with three kinds of rape in the first degree:
(1) Sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion [13A-6-61(a)(1)].
(2) Sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated [13A-6-61(a)(2)].
(3) Being 16 years or older and having sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex who is less than 12 years old.
If the Megan Rondini case moved forward as it should have, it likely would have been brought under No. 1 and maybe No. 2, given that she'd had several drinks and did not remember certain events leading to the alleged rape.
In Rudolph, the defendant (Melvin Rudolph) was convicted of one count of rape under No. 1, one count of rape under No. 2, and one count of sexual abuse under Code of Alabama 13A-6-66(a)(1). The victim was S.G., who was 11 years old at the time of the incident. From the opinion:
The State's evidence at trial tended to show the following: S.G., who was 14 years old at the time of trial, testified that, during the summer of 2012 she lived with her grandmother and that Rudolph was her grandmother's "helper around the house. . . . " S.G. testified that Rudolph sometimes slept at her grandmother's house. S.G. testified that, one evening that summer, she gave her grandmother her medication and that her grandmother went to sleep. S.G. testified that she locked the doors of her grandmother's house and went to her room to go to sleep. S.G. testified that Rudolph was the only other person in the house and that he was asleep on a couch when she went to her room. S.G. testified that, later in the evening, she was alone in her room sleeping when Rudolph tapped on her shoulder and woke her up. S.G. testified that Rudolph pulled her shorts and underwear down, climbed on top of her, pinned her down, and penetrated her vagina with his penis. . . . S.G. testified that she knew that Rudolph was the man who raped her because she could smell alcohol on his breath, and she knew that Rudolph had been drinking earlier that day. S.G. testified that, after Rudolph left her room, she locked herself in her closet and stayed there until morning because she was afraid of Rudolph.
Did the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals uphold the conviction against Rudolph under Code of Alabama 13A-6-61(a)(1), the same statute under which Megan Rondini's case likely would have been brought? The answer is yes. From the opinion:
In order to convict Rudolph of first-degree rape under § 13A-6-61(a)(1), the State must prove that Rudolph "engaged in sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex by forcible compulsion. . . . "Section 13A-6-60(8), Ala.Code 1975, defines "forcible compulsion" as "[p]hysical force that overcomes earnest resistance or a threat, express or implied, that places a person in fear of immediate death or serious physical injury to himself or another person." S.G.'s testimony, as noted above, was sufficient evidence to sustain Rudolph's conviction of first-degree rape under § 13A-6-61(a)(1), Ala.Code 1975.
As a reminder, here again is S.G.'s testimony, upon which the Rudolph conviction was reached and upheld:
S.G. testified that Rudolph entered her bedroom one evening while she was sleeping, woke her up, removed her shorts and underwear, climbed on top of her, pinned her down, and penetrated her vagina with his penis.
You will notice that the Rudolph opinion makes no finding that S.G. had to "hit or kick" her attacker. In fact, it doesn't say much about resistance at all. It simply finds that the testimony highlighted in yellow above is enough to support a conviction on rape in the first degree.
Words in a magazine, of course, are different from words stated under oath in a court of law. But Megan Rondini's account to BuzzFeed News sounds an awful lot like S.G.'s testimony in the Rudolph case.
The big difference in the two cases? In Rudolph, which originated in Lowndes County, S.G. got a chance for her voice to be heard in court. In the case against T.J. Bunn Jr., which originated in Tuscaloosa, Megan Rondini never got that chance.
Balch partner Joel Gilbert helped prepare a contract that called for Robinson to fight U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) efforts to clean up a Superfund site in North Birmingham, according to a recent report at al.com. Another Balch partner, Teri T. Wyly, is connected to a BP-related contract with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that has attracted FBI attention, according to a report Tuesday at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
On top of that, the Superfund scandal reportedly has ensnared U.S. Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), and with that story reaching high heat, Strange's one-time campaign manager and mistress, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, left her "of counsel" position at . . . Balch and Bingham. Then, as the Strange story broke, Garrison's social-media profile mostly went dark. Hmm . . .
The Mississippi investigation is focused on Trudy Fisher, former DEQ director, and Amy Whitten, an attorney and private contractor involved in the disbursement of BP funds. From the Clarion-Ledger story by reporter Anna Wolfe:
In the three years since Director Trudy Fisher's resignation, federal investigators have looked into DEQ's activities under her leadership. The probe looks at contracts granted by DEQ in an attempt to determine whether Fisher personally benefited from them, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation, including several people who have been interviewed by the FBI.
How does Balch and Bingham enter the picture? Wolfe explains:
Under Fisher, private contractor and attorney Amy Whitten reaped nearly $2 million in DEQ contracts, either directly with the agency or through subcontracts with law firm Balch and Bingham. Whitten, a well-known state contractor, had worked with a number of agencies and secured four previous DEQ contracts before Fisher took over the agency. . . .
|BP oil spill in Mississippi|
Fisher, 57, and Whitten, 63, headed initial damage assessment efforts in Mississippi, Fisher as the federal representative for the state and Whitten as the alternate.
Heavily redacted financial records from Balch and Bingham are part of the FBI inquiry. Writes Wolfe:
Fisher announced her resignation in May 2014. This came just one week after her agency's wholesale redaction of public records came under fire during a Hinds County Chancery Court hearing. DEQ blacked out hundreds of pages of Balch and Bingham and Whitten invoices totaling roughly $6 million.
Purchases included first-class airfare for Fisher and Whitten at $1,774 per ticket in July 2012, as detailed on an invoice from Whitten to Balch and Bingham. The exact date, reason for and destination of their trip was not included.
Balch and Bingham attorney Teri Wyly, who led the firm's DEQ contract, said last week that she remembers taking two trips with Whitten and Fisher that July — one to San Antonio for a meeting with other state restoration leaders and one to Atlanta to meet with BP representatives. It was the first possible explanation given for the travel in three years of inquiries.
At least two partners at Balch and Bingham are in the cross hairs of federal investigators? That suggests the Birmingham legal community could be in for an upheaval like it has never seen.
|Princeton Baptist Medical Center|
The Alabama State Bar recently disciplined a Birmingham lawyer for filing a lawsuit on behalf of Johnny Lee Banks, who claimed he entered a hospital for a circumcision and left with a severed penis. The Bar found that attorney John Patrick Graves did not adequately research his client's claims before filing the lawsuit. The Bar issued a public reprimand, without general publication, for violating an Alabama rule of professional conduct, according to a disciplinary notice in the July edition of The Alabama Lawyer, a state bar publication.
Personal experience has taught me that Alabama lawyers violate this particular rule all the time and tend to get away with it. So why is attorney Graves having his tootsies held to the fire? Our only answer is this: The Alabama State Bar is a corrupt organization -- a joke, if you will -- that tends to let connected lawyers from big firms off the hook, while punishing less-connected practitioners.
An alert reader might ask, "Well, why didn't the lawyer just say to his client, 'Drop those trousers, bro, and let me take a look at that manhood of yours -- or what's left of it (Uh huh, uh huh).'" We're not sure Graves did that, but there is evidence he did research the case. So why does the State Bar have its panties in a bunch?
Public records indicate Graves was disciplined under Rule 3.1 Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, which holds in part:
In his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not file a suit, assert a position, conduct a defense, delay a trial, or take other action on behalf of the lawyer's client when the lawyer knows or when it is obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another.
The medical-malpractice lawsuit was filed on July 22, 2014,after a circumcision allegedly went awry at Princeton Baptist Medical Center in Birmingham. According to an August 2014 report at al.com, the patient signed an affidavit stating that his penis had been amputated during a circumcision. Hospital officials denied the penis was amputated and claimed Graves should have checked medical records before filing the lawsuit. The patient, his wife, and son, however, filed affidavits saying the patient was believed to be dying in July and so the lawsuit was filed then in order to preserve the claims.
Based on the record, it seems clear Graves conducted a reasonable amount of research on the case. My own experience with lawyers filing bogus lawsuits suggests the discipline against Graves is preposterous.
Just consider what my wife, Carol, and I have experienced from unscrupulous lawyers in court. Our former Birmingham neighbor Mike McGarity -- the guy with a lengthy criminal record -- filed a malicious-prosecution lawsuit against me in 2001. That came after I had signed a complaint for criminal trespassing (third degree, a violation, not even a misdemeanor) against McGarity when he ignored our repeated verbal and written warnings -- he even threatened to sue me for "harassment" -- and continued entering our property without permission.
The problems with McGarity started our journey through legal hell and led to the birth of this blog. Here is background on what took the McGarity problems into court, from an earlier post:
Our legal woes started when we had the misfortune of having a career criminal named Mike McGarity move in next door to us. Our charming neighbor apparently hid his ugly past during the job screening process at his employer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. (In blunt terms, he likely lied on his job application, and the lax process at BC/BS let him get away with it.)
McGarity, his kids, and guests -- having already sassed us when we asked him to keep his barking coon hound under control ("You just need to get earplugs") -- proceeded to trespass on our property on an almost daily basis. When we called to let McGarity know his presence was not welcome on our yard, McGarity replied, "I'm going to sue you for harassment" and "we're going to keep on coming,"
When we asked a Birmingham lawyer named Bill Lewis to write a letter, explaining the law to this dunderhead, it seemed to have no effect. The trespassing continued, and the last line of Lewis' letter was, "You will receive no more warnings."
With all that in mind, we felt we had no choice but to pursue a case against McGarity for criminal trespassing, third degree. The alternative was to wait until someone got hurt on our property, have them sue us, and watch our homeowners-insurance premiums go through the roof. (Allowing trespassers to freely roam your property is a bad idea, for a lot of reasons, perhaps the biggest one is financial.)
During the criminal proceeding, McGarity admitted that he had entered our property without being "licensed, invited, or privileged" to be there. He also admitted that he had been warned multiple times to stay off our property. In essence, he confessed to trespassing as charged, but Shelby County Circuit Judge Ron Jackson found him "not guilty" anyway. (We're not making this up, folks.) From our previous post:
District Judge Ron Jackson had encouraged both parties to work out a settlement, but McGarity refused to discuss it. That meant the case went to trial, and a transcript shows that McGarity confessed to the crime as charged. How do we know? Well, the elements of criminal trespassing, third degree, are about as straightforward and simple as law gets. Here they are, straight from Code of Alabama 13A-7-4:
(1) "A person commits the crime of trespass in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises."
(2) "A person enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises when he is not licensed, invited or privileged to do so."
Our research indicates "licensed" refers to someone who has a professional reason to enter property, such as a meter reader. "Privileged" refers to someone who tries to address an unexpected occurrence. For example, if your hat flies off your head and lands in my yard, you have a right to retrieve it. (In a lot of legal opinions, "licensed" and "privileged" are used interchangeably.) "Invited," as it sounds, refers to someone who who has a good relationship with the owner and has reason to believe he is welcome to enter.
The transcript shows that McGarity admitted to entering our property, he made no claim to being licensed or privileged, and he made no claim that he was welcome. In fact, he admitted we had verbally warned him multiple times to stay off our property, along with others entering from his yard. Translation: McGarity admitted to the crime of criminal trespass, third degree.
This is when Judge Jackson, supposedly a "conservative," started making up law on the bench, apparently pulling it out of his anal cavity:
Judge Jackson, however, found that -- in this instance -- we had to give McGarity written warning. We did that, of course, in the form of Bill Lewis' letter. But a woman from Lewis' office testified that she could not find the certifield-mail receipt that proved when McGarity received the letter. McGarity claimed he had not received the written warning prior to trespassing, and Jackson found that created enough reasonable doubt to acquit -- even though the judge essentially read McGarity the proverbial "riot act" from the bench about the dire consequences of any future trespassing.
We later discovered that Jackson got the law laughably wrong -- except it's not funny when you are the victim of a judge's corrupt rulings. Here is the actual law from a case styled Chambers v. City of Opelika, 698 So. 2d 792 (Ala. Crim. App., 1996):
The appellant has cited no authority for his position that to be guilty of criminal trespass the intruder must be aware that he or she had no license or privilege to enter or to remain on the premises. There is authority, however, that states that when those premises are private and not open to the public, there is no requirement that the prosecution prove that a prior written or verbal warning was given to the intruder.
In other words, we had no obligation to warn McGarity at all. We certainly did not have to warn him in writing, as Jackson found. The same holds true for any homeowner -- or renter, for that matter. It is the would-be intruder's duty to make sure he has lawful grounds to enter. McGarity never did that, and Jackson turned the law on its head in order to reach an "acquittal."
The whole point of a malicious-prosecution claim is to show you were arrested on a complaint that was not based in probable cause. The McGarity trial showed that I not only had probable cause, I had actual cause -- he confessed to the crime, but still was acquitted.
How does this happen? Well, McGarity's lawyer, Bill Swatek, has a son (Dax Swatek) who served as former Gov. Bob Riley's campaign manager. Dax Swatek is tied to Bill Canary (head of the Business Council of Alabama), who is tied to Thomas Donohue (head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), who is tied to former Bush guru Karl Rove. We think that pretty much explains the favoritism Bill Swatek received in the GOP hotbed of Shelby County, Alabama.
Like many lawyers, Swatek probably wanted McGarity's money -- public records indicate McGarity had to refinance his house twice in order to pay Swatek -- and didn't care about telling him he had no case. Here is the conversation the two of them should have had:
Bill Swatek (BS): Mike, why do you want to file a malicious-prosecution claim against Mr. Shuler?
Mike McGarity (MM): Well, I got hot about Shuler trying to keep me off his yard. It ain't right, so I want revenge. (That's how McGarity talks; he gets "hot" about things that don't go his way.)
BS: Mike, the judge made it clear you have no right to go on Shuler's yard. That's law that goes back to the Old Testament. It's not new stuff.
MM: Well, I still want to fire back at Shuler for what he did to me.
BS: Mike, he didn't do anything wrong to you. Evidence at trial showed you were on his property after being warned -- and, by law, Shuler didn't have to warn you. You admitted committing trespass as charged. Judge Jackson cut you a ton of slack by acquitting, when you actually were guilty.
MM: Yeah, but I want revenge. I'm hot.
BS: Well, a malicious-prosecution claim is not about revenge -- or hotness. It's about proving you were arrested without probable cause. In this case you were arrested with probable cause -- with actual cause, in fact. You have no malicious-prosecution case.
MM: Well, I want to file one anyway, I want to make Shuler suffer.
BS: You're going to have to find another lawyer to do that. If I filed such a case, I would be subject to sanctions for filing a case without "good cause" to bring it. It would be a violation of our ethical rules. It's wrong, and I'm not going to do it. I got you off on criminal charges, so I would suggest you be content with that and move forward -- except be sure you stay off Shuler's property when you do it. The judge said you are going to get nailed if you wind up in court again on this. I'd suggest, for once, that you listen to somebody.
The notion of Bill Swatek being concerned about ethics issues is a joke, to be sure. But this isn't a joke: We filed a bar complaint against Swatek and received a letter that it would not even be investigated. Now we learn that attorney Graves has been disciplined for failing to research a case, when published reports indicate he did research the case -- certainly more than Bill Swatek did on the McGarity case.
The Alabama State Bar is a big reason Alabama courts stink to high heaven. It enables dirt bags like Bill Swatek, while dropping the hammer on John Patrick Graves.
Did Graves makes a mistake, did he rely too heavily on the word of his client? It's possible, sure. Graves' biggest mistake probably was taking on a large hospital that could afford to hire Starnes Davis and Florie, a Birmingham firm with roughly 60 lawyers. That's the kind of large firm the Alabama State Bar routinely favors.
Did any possible misconduct on Graves' part reach the level of Swatek's gross behavior in the McGarity case? Not even close.
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Megan Rondini, the University of Alabama student who committed suicide after her rape allegations against a member of a wealthy Tuscaloosa family met a stone wall of indifference, probably was a victim of having too strong a case. That likely sent the system into overdrive to protect T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn, Rondini's alleged attacker
That a strong case could work against you is counterintuitive, to be sure. But when you consider that a strong case could cause problems for someone who is white, wealthy, connected, and powerful . . . well, you begin to comprehend how our broken system works against many individuals -- especially someone like Megan Rondini, who was young, female, from another state (Texas), and not "connected" in Alabama.
We know the system -- specifically Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's investigator Adam Jones -- worked against Rondini by giving her a wildly inaccurate description of Alabama rape law. (See here and here.) But this is not just a case of what members of the "system" DID say to Rondini; it's also of matter of what they did NOT say.
Based on what we know from BuzzFeed News'account of the case, Rondini should have been a prosecutor's dream witness. She was bold, smart, attractive, serious about her studies, and unafraid to pursue a rape case against a man she knew was connected. That, alone, could have put "Sweet Tea" Bunn in a dicey position if the case had gone before a judge and jury.
But that is not the only advantage Megan Rondini might have had if law-enforcement types had taken her seriously and given her accurate and full information about Alabama law. Consider this from a case we have already discussed, Rudolph v. State, 200 So. 3d 1186 (Ala. Crim. App., 2015):
This Court has held that "[t]he uncorroborated testimony of a rape victim can support a rape conviction.Johnson v. State, 365 So.2d 123 (Ala.Crim.App.) cert. denied, 365 So.2d 130 (Ala.1978)." Garrett v. State, 580 So.2d 58, 61 (Ala.Crim.App. 1991). Accordingly, the State's evidence was sufficient to sustain Rudolph's conviction of first-degree rape under § 13A-6-61(a)(3), Ala.Code 1975.
What does that tell us? It says some rape cases can be relatively simple; if you have a credible victim, one with a solid story and the ability to articulate it, that alone can result in a rape conviction -- and uphold it. Let's consider the two cases cited above in Rudolph.
In Johnson v. State, 365 So. 2d 123 (Ala. Crim. App., 1978), the defendant argued on appeal that the victim had several opportunities during the process to make a complaint, but remained silent. The court found that unpersuasive (referring to the victim as the "prosecutrix"):
Although a failure to make a timely complaint after the rape may cast doubt on the veracity of the prosecutrix's testimony, it does not disprove the charge. The truth of the charge remains for the jury. Clark v. State, 28 Ala.App. 448, 186 So. 778.As seen from the facts set out above, the testimony of prosecutrix, alone, if believed by the jury, was sufficient to sustain appellant's conviction. Even the uncorroborated testimony of a prosecutrix will support a rape prosecution.Daniels v. State, Ala.Cr.App., 343 So.2d 566.
In Garrett v. State, 580 So. 2d 58 (Ala. Crim. App, 1991), the defendant argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient, mainly because the victim did not make a complaint until roughly a year after the rape had occurred. Again, the court was unpersuaded:
The uncorroborated testimony of a rape victim can support a rape conviction. Johnson v. State, 365 So.2d 123 (Ala.Crim. App.) cert. denied, 365 So.2d 130 (Ala. 1978). See also Anthony v. State, 473 So.2d 554 (Ala.Crim.App.1984); Minnifield v. State, 392 So.2d 1288 (Ala.Crim.App. 1981)."Although a failure to make a timely complaint after the rape may cast doubt on the veracity of the prosecutrix's testimony, the truth of the charge remains for the jury."Johnson at 129 (emphasis supplied); Lake v. State, 475 So.2d 896 (Ala. Crim.App.1985) (evidence sufficient to sustain rape conviction even though rape was not reported until the next day and victim did not tell her mother until immediately prior to trial). The victim's testimony provided sufficient evidence of the crime charged. We will not substitute our judgment for that of the jury when there is sufficient evidence of the crime charged.
Our guess is that Megan Rondini would have made a stronger witness than the victims in either Johnson or Garrett. And if that had been the case, and the jury believed her story, T.J. Bunn would have been in a tight spot. It does not mean he would have been convicted; but it does mean he could have been convicted (with the conviction upheld on appeal), based on Megan's testimony alone.
If there had been an uncompromised investigator in the Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Office, here is what he should have told Megan Rondini: "Megan, your case probably will be charged as rape, first degree, which requires "forcible compulsion." That means, in part, that you must have "earnestly resisted." That does not mean you had to "hit or kick" Mr. Bunn. It's a relative term that requires the court to consider the two parties' size, strength, ages, your physical and mental condition, and the degree of force used. That you told Mr. Bunn you did not want to have sex, and you wanted to go home, should weigh in your favor.
"The testimony of any rape victim is critical. In fact, your testimony alone, by law, is enough to support a rape conviction -- and uphold it on appeal. You seem like a credible, articulate, determined young woman. If a jury picks up on those qualities and analyzes them so as to believe your story, that alone could be enough to convict. That doesn't automatically mean Mr. Bunn will be convicted in your case; he might put on a strong defense, and no one can predict the outcome. But nothing beyond your uncorroborated testimony is required to convict him."
It seems no one in authority even came close to making such an accurate statement of the law to Megan Rondini. As a result, she never got her day in court. That probably means investigators knew she had a strong case, and they did not want it to see the light of day.
The reality of our "justice system" is this: If you have a weak case, no one is likely to be worried about it. They will shoot holes in it and wipe your complaint aside. If you have a strong case, and it involves apparent misconduct by one or more white elites, someone almost certainly will be worried about it -- enough to try to circumvent the facts and law to produce an unjust result.
You can rest assured someone was darned worried about Megan Rondini's case, and that apparently set off a chain of obfuscation that wound up costing her life.
We've seen significant evidence that the statement, made by Officer Debi Wade, isn't true. What does it mean if the officers who threw us out of an apartment that we lawfully occupied, causing us to lose most of our worldly possessions and breaking my wife, Carol's, arm . . . did all of that without a valid court order? That is a profound question, which we will examine at the end of this post, but first let's look at the evidence.
The Missouri Attorney General's Office has issued a pamphlet on landlord/tenant law that plainly states: A landlord may not evict a tenant without a court order. (See page 16 of 20-page pamphlet.) Here are Debi Wade's words from a written report, dated 9/10/15, the day after our eviction. (The report and related documents are embedded at the end of this post.)
On September 9, 2015, we responded to 4070 S. Fort to execute a Writ of Execution and Court Order (1531-ACO4535) to remove lessee Roger Shuler from the rental. Mr. Shuler had made previous statements advising that he would not vacate the home as ordered by the judge to do so, and would have to be physically removed. After the posted deadline date of 09-09-15 @ 9:00 a.m., we received a call from the landlord advising that the Shulers were still there, and it was believed that they had made no effort to vacate the residence at all.
As an initial matter, let's note Wade's claim that I had made statements "advising" that I would not vacate the home "as ordered by the judge to do so." Does Wade provide any clue as to how she came up with that information, perhaps identifying the person I supposedly "advised" and pointing to any signs that might indicate said individual was credible? Nope, not a word.
Let's now focus on the back end of Wade's statement -- that I had been "ordered by a judge" to vacate. Wade references the case number (1531-AC04535) for Trent Cowherd v. Roger Shuler, the eviction lawsuit in question, so we can look that up at case.net. If you click on "docket entries" for the case, what do you learn? An entry on 8/27/15 states that Judge Kelly Halford Rose had found for Cowherd on possession only and issued an interlocutory order to that effect -- with other issues, including our counterclaim, set for hearing on 10/1/15. An entry on 8/31/15 shows the judge had formally filed an interlocutory judgment on the possession issue.
What does "interlocutory" mean? It means the judgment or order is not final and generally cannot be appealed. The docket indicates no final judgments would come until all issues had been heard, which would be some time after 10/1/15. Why would judge Rose sign an eviction order when she had not issued a final judgment on that, or any other issue, related to Cowherd v. Shuler? The answer: she wouldn't, and she didn't. That means Officer Wade likely is lying about having a court order.
Here is where this whole charade almost gets amusing. Officer Wade almost seems aghast -- verklempt, even -- that Carol and I had made no effort to vacate the property. Maybe that's because there had been no valid court order that we do so. But the silliness doesn't end there.
Our next step is to look at RSMo 535.350, which holds:
534.350. The judge rendering judgment in any such cause may issue execution at any time after judgment, but such execution shall not be levied until after the expiration of the time allowed for the taking of an appeal, except execution for the purpose of restoring possession shall be issued no sooner than ten days after the judgment. However, the execution for purposes of restoring possession shall be stayed pending an appeal if the losing party posts an appeal bond.
What does this tell us? (1) An eviction must be authorized by a judge; it's not something a landlord, his lawyer, and a sheriff can effectuate on their own; (2) An eviction cannot be executed until after the time allowed for taking an appeal has expired; (3) Execution for restoring possession shall be stayed if the losing party files a Notice of Appeal, with an appeal bond.
The docket shows that we timely filed a notice of appeal, with appropriate fees, and the Missouri Court of Appeals filed correspondence noticing receipt of our appeal on 9/9/15 -- the date our eviction had unlawfully been scheduled, inside the 10-day window. There was no appeal bond because there was no final judgment in our case, and no judgment amount (upon which an appeal bond is based) was entered.
The law is clear that our notice of appeal put a stay on execution, and we have addressed that already in multiple posts. But what about the notice we received regarding the eviction, via several documents that were attached to our door. They all were versions, filled out in a varying ways, of Greene County's form for "Execution in Landlord's Action for Possession of Premises for Non-Payment of Rent." (Several versions of the form are embedded at the end of this post.)
Underneath the sticky note is the following information, in red type: "Note: The seal of the Greene County Circuit Court must be affixed for this Execution to be valid." Is the seal affixed anywhere on the document? If it is, it's sure well hidden from my eyes.
Let's review what all of this tells us:
(1) None of the documents "ordering" our eviction was signed by a judge;
(2) None of the documents "ordering" our eviction was affixed with the Greene County Circuit Court seal, as required by law. That means they were invalid;
(3) Attorney Craig Lowther, in an apparent act of fraud, essentially ordered our eviction, via a bogus sticky note that falsely claimed to be a court order. Trent Cowherd, Lowther's client, might have been involved in the fraud, too;
(4) Perhaps most importantly, the case docket clearly shows that Judge Kelly Halford Rose had issued an interlocutory order and judgment -- meaning there was no final judgment from which an appeal could be taken, no such final judgment was forthcoming until after all issues had been heard on 10/1/15, and our notice of appeal should not have been on file until a final judgment was entered.
What's the take-home point? Rose almost certainly did not sign any of the "court orders" because she knew no final judgment had been entered. That suggests Craig Lowther, perhaps under instructions from Trent Cowherd, fraudulently "ordered" us out of our home -- using authority he does not have. In other words, Lowther and perhaps Cowherd conned us into a bogus eviction, causing most of our worldly possessions to be stolen or lost -- and they broke Carol's arm, in the process.
So much for law and order, here in the Ozarks.
Speaking of "law and order," Sheriff Jim Arnott doesn't look so good in all of this either. This is from a December 2015 post about our eviction:
Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was on hand for our eviction -- Why? I have no idea -- and as I tried to explain to him that we had filed a Notice of Appeal that put an automatic stay on execution of the eviction, he shrugged his shoulders and uttered the sheriff's usual phrase, "Well, I've got a court order."
"Is it signed by a judge?" I asked. "The notice that was attached to our door did not appear to be signed by a judge." (Our copy of the notice, like much of our important paperwork, was lost in the chaos of the eviction process. It should be in the official court file.)
"Well, it's in my car," Arnott said.
"Can I see it?"
"I'll show it to you before I leave."
Did I ever get to see it? Nope -- Arnott's deputies were too busy brutalizing my wife.
Did Arnott actually have a valid court order in his car? The answer almost certainly is no, seeing as how one apparently did not exist. Does that mean Arnott was acting in extrajudicial cahoots with Lowther and Cowherd? That's how it looks from here.
Was Debi Wade being truthful when when she claimed to have a court order, and that I had been "ordered by a judge" to vacate? The evidence suggests she was not.
What does all of this mean? Well, the circumstances are so bizarre that it's hard to find statutory or case law that is on point. This much is certain: Causing someone to be kicked out of their home based on fraudulent documents, unlawfully assuming the authority of a judge . . . well, that is ugly stuff. I'm guessing it is criminal, almost certainly violating 18 U.S. Code 242 -- "Deprivation of rights under color of law" -- and possibly other state or federal statutes.
Bringing a criminal case against a landlord, lawyer, or sheriff isn't easy. Our system is set up to protect such folks, and I'm guessing it is the rare prosecutor who is willing to hold them accountable. But we are going to look into the criminal implications of our eviction, and if I have my way, I few prominent folks in Springfield, Missouri, might discover down the line that "orange is the new black."
Rondini, a 20-year-old UA student who killed herself after her rape allegations were met with indifference and a string of lies about Alabama law from investigators, almost certainly would be alive today if she had gone to a college or university in her home state of Texas. She almost certainly would be alive if she had gone to school in the vast majority of other states. But Rondini understandably chose UA -- which has an attractive campus, a powerhouse football team, a welcoming Greek system, and outwardly pleasant surroundings (when Tuscaloosa isn't being threatened by a tornado).
Those amenities, plus scholarship opportunities to attract high achievers from beyond Alabama's borders, are a major reason students from around the country have been flocking to UA in recent years. But many come with no particular ties to the Tuscaloosa community, a place where "connections" reign supreme. That makes them vulnerable, especially female students like Megan, when a wealthy and connected local like T.J. Bunn Jr. allegedly preys on them.
In most functional college towns, Megan's allegations probably would have been taken seriously and investigated, putting a guy like "Sweet Tea" Bunn at risk of facing years behind bars. In Tuscaloosa, a dysfunctional network of white privilege and entitlement, combined with the Bunn family's financial donations to local law-enforcement candidates, bought protection for "Sweet Tea."
Megan met a stonewall of resistance and deception, leading to frustration and despair that apparently caused her to take her own life. That might lead to an expensive public-relations nightmare for the University of Alabama and its environs, whose secrets could be unmasked in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Birmingham attorney Leroy Maxwell Jr., on behalf of the Rondini family.
That's ironic because the University of Alabama has been thriving on the backs of students like Megan Rondini. It is among the nation's top institutions at growing enrollment by attracting students from out of state.
Just 10 years ago, UA was a relatively small flagship university, with an enrollment of 23,878. By fall 2016, the student body had grown to a record 37,665. As the university approaches 40,000 students, it's heading into the rarefied neighborhood occupied by the nation's largest institutions, such as Ohio State (66,046), U of Michigan (44,718), U of Texas (50,950), U of Florida (52,286) and UCLA (44,947).
Many public colleges, facing shrinking state support, have started chasing out-of-state students -- and their tuition dollars -- according to a report last July at The New York Times. The University of Alabama has engaged in that battle so aggressively that its enrollment now features more than 50 percent non-resident students. From The Times article:
Elliot Spillers, from Pelham, Ala., was student body president at the University of Alabama last year — the first black student in 40 years to have held that position. He said he doubted he would have been elected if the student body, which is mostly white, had been homegrown. The university’s enrollment is now more than half out-of-staters.
“It’s definitely shifting the culture here on campus, which is a positive thing,” Mr. Spillers said, echoing the views of many students.
Others see a less positive side to the change.
Of the out-of-state undergraduates at Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus, more than 3,000 receive merit aid in the form of free or discounted tuition — an average of $19,000 per student. In 2015, the university gave $100 million in merit aid.
Scholarship support for out-of-state students at UA is substantial. A Capstone Scholar receives $20,000 over four years. A Collegiate Scholar receives $24,000 over four years. A Foundation in Excellence Scholar receives $52,000 over four years. A UA Scholar receives $76,000 over four years. A Presidential Scholar receives $100,000 over four years. A Presidential Scholar receives full tuition for up to four years and one year of on-campus housing.
Megan Rondini was attracted to UA, in part, by financial support. From the BuzzFeed News article that broke her story to a national and international audience (with almost 2.3 million views):
Megan had an honors scholarship at UA, and she studied hard, scoring a spot in a special MBA program for high achievers in STEM fields and working after class at a lab studying Alzheimer’s disease.
Last November, The New York Times published a story titled "How the University of Alabama Became a National Player." From the article:
How . . . you might ask, did Brianna Zavilowitz, a Staten Islander with 2120 SATs and a 4.0 grade-point average, daughter of a retired N.Y.P.D. detective and an air traffic controller, with zero interest in pledging and middling enthusiasm for football, wind up in Tuscaloosa for college?
This was not the capricious choice of a freckle-faced teenager, which she is. Rather, the reason she turned down the University of California, Berkeley, and canceled her Columbia University interview (“I figured I didn’t want to waste his time”) reveals the new competitive ethos in public higher education: Think big and recruit.
Ms. Zavilowitz first noticed the university on Facebook. A few clicks and Bama was omnipresent. Pop-ups, emails and literature piqued her interest. She visited, took the bus tour, was tickled by the Southern hospitality. Her mother appreciated detailed parent information suggesting “a well-oiled machine.” There was more: a full-tuition scholarship. “My mom kept telling me not to look at the money,” said Ms. Zavilowitz, chatting in red Alabama footies. “But it definitely helped.” Roll, Tide, roll.
Here is more about the strategy that has made the University of Alabama the fastest growing flagship campus in the country:
With state funding now just 12.5 percent of the university’s budget, campus leaders have mapped an offensive strategy to grow in size, prestige and, most important, revenue. The endgame is to become a national player known for more than championship football. [California] Berkeley, the University of Michigan and University of Virginia are the schools “we compare ourselves against,” said Kevin W. Whitaker, Alabama’s interim provost.
Alabama has invested heavily to lure students like Ms. Zavilowitz, who does not qualify for federal financial aid. The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.
The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27.
This seems to be the equation: Hire "an army of recruiters" to go after top non-resident students; dangle serious scholarship money; offer lots of amenities, promote Southern culture and top-notch football; compare yourself to Cal, Michigan, Virginia, and the like . . . and students flock to your campus from all over the country.
One thing seems to be missing in the equation. Many students, from all destinations, enjoy the occasional (OK, frequent) night on the town. In Megan's case, that meant a trip to Innisfree Irish Pub, where she came in contact with "Sweet Tea" Bunn. When that led to a sexual encounter that Megan insisted was not consensual -- at Bunn's mansion -- she discovered that UA's interest in her did not go far beneath the surface. In the Rondini vs. Bunn match, Megan never had a chance; Tuscaloosa elites sided heavily with Bunn.
Ultimately, Megan Rondini lost her life because of the indifference that lurks throughout the city and university hierarchy. Other potential UA students from out of state might want to think twice about that before falling for the university's entreaties.
|Andy and Monica Schroeder|
Andy Schroeder has been with South Central Steel Inc. (SCS), of Harpersville, since 2010. He has degrees in engineering from Virginia Tech and finance from Auburn University.
His wife, Monica Johnson Schroeder, also is a major figure in the corporate world. According to her Facebook page, she is a vice president at Capital One and has held several positions in real-estate finance.
The couple has at least one child, a son named Drew. They appear to have an older son named Chase, but that is not certain from published reports. According to his Facebook page, Andy Schroeder went to Briarwood Christian High School.
What is South Central Steel? This is from the company's Web site:
South Central Steel, Inc.
SCS has provided the highest quality fabricated structural steel to the industrial and commercial construction industry for over 20 years. Our dedication to quality, performance and customer satisfaction is the primary reason for our continued success. We have become a leader in steel construction throughout the United States providing the highest value and professional services to our customers. We have talented professionals and the latest technology to give our customers a total steel package.
Have you always wanted a "total steel package"? Well, now you know where to get one. The SCS Web site lists projects across the South, from Texas to Georgia and Florida.
Providing "total steel packages" apparently pays well. The Schroeder family lives at 5036 Greystone Way, and the property has an estimated value of $863,442.
Shelby County records indicate the Schroeders own quite a bit of property, either corporate or personal, in what generally is considered Alabama's fastest growing county. For example, in April 2017, they took out a $750,000 commercial real estate mortgage on what appears to be at least two lots in the fourth sector of Greystone.
Our best guess is that it will be some sort of business development. What kind? We aren't sure, but it won't be cheap.
We sought comment from Andy Schroeder for this post, but he has not responded to our queries.
Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series
(21) Craig Oliver, attorney, Springfield, MO (1/24/17)
(22) Craig Lowell, attorney, Wiggins Childs, Birmingham (1/26/17)
(23) Thomas Mancuso, tax attorney, Montgomery, AL (2/16/17)
(24) Nicholas Arciniegas, attorney, Washington, D.C. (2/21/17)
(25) Griffin McGahey, vice president, High Cotton USA, Birmingham (3/16/17)
(26) Matthew Couch, attorney, Cabaniss Johnson, Birmingham (3/23/17)
(27) Dr. Keron Vickers, chiropractor, Birmingham (4/4/17)
(28) D. Paterson Cope, president, wealth management, Birmingham (4/20/17)
(29) Shawn Baker, developer, Blackwater Resources, Birmingham (4/24/17)
(30) David Deusner, attorney/forensics, Control Risks, Birmingham/Washington, D.C. (4/26/17)
(31) David J. Harrison, attorney, Geneva, AL (6/8/17)
(32) Michael Mullis, managing partner, Kelley and Mullis, Birmingham (4/12/17)
(33) David Healy, attorney, Ozark, MO (6/15/17)
(34) Tom Layfield, executive director of ALRBA, Montgonery, AL (6/19/17)
(35) Thomas T. Lamberth Jr., mortgage banker, BBVA Compass, Birmingham (6/20/17)
(36) Ron Ten Berge, exec. partner, Frontenac Private Equity, Chicago/Birmingham (6/28/17)
|Sheriff Jim Arnott and a Greene County (Mo.) patrol car|
Is any of this remotely true? No, it isn't, and we can point to at least two key pieces of evidence to prove it.
The truth is that Carol's arm already was broken before she was placed in the patrol car. It was broken when three cops surrounded her as she was trying to enter our duplex apartment -- as she had been given permission to do -- to retrieve our cat's litter box. An officer in a blue shirt -- we cleverly call him "Mr. Blue Shirt" -- grabbed Carol from behind, around the shoulders, and slammed her butt-first to the ground. The impact of that body slam might have been enough to cause a concussion. But "Mr. Blue Shirt" (who is not nearly as pleasant as Mr. Blue Sky, of Electric Light Orchestra fame) was not finished inflicting damage. He then yanked on Carol's arms in an upward and backward direction, grabbing and twisting her arms just above the elbow.
That's when her arm was shattered, so severely that it required trauma surgery for repair; regular orthopedic work would not fix it. How do we know the "flailing" story is a steaming pile of excrement? Here is reason No. 1:
Carol was placed in a seat belt in the patrol car
Carol states unequivocally that cops used a seat belt -- with a shoulder harness -- when they placed her in the back seat of the patrol car. In other words, she was handcuffed with her arms behind her and restrained from her shoulders down. Try putting on handcuffs from behind, with a lap belt and shoulder harness, and see how much you can flail around in the back seat of your vehicle. You will find real quickly that you can't.
I was sitting in our car, which was parked close to the garage in our driveway of the duplex, when this happened. The patrol car was parked in the other driveway of the duplex, behind me and to my right, fairly close to the street. I lost sight of Carol as they put her in the backseat -- she was obscured partly by the vehicle itself and partly because, as I recall, its windows were tinted.
Two points are lodged in my memory as I read the officers' accounts: (1) My windows were rolled down, and I never heard Carol scream or curse at all. In fact, I never heard her cry out when her arm was broken, perhaps because she was in shock (paramedics later treated her with oxygen, which generally is applied to patients who show signs of going into shock) and perhaps because she already had suffered a concussion; (2) I remember, from my own experience being brutalized by cops in Shelby County, Alabama, that they belted me into the backseat to the point I felt like Hannibal Lecter. And that was while the vehicle was sitting still. I sat like that, with pepper spray dripping off of me, for roughly 20-30 minutes while an officer filled out a report before the car ever moved.
If you Google "prisoner transport and seat belts," you will find there has been litigation around the country about instances where prisoners or suspects were injured after officers failed to secure them with seat belts. (See here, here, and here.) Police agencies have paid out lots of money for failing to secure individuals riding in the back of patrol cars.
Our research indicates many police agencies have adopted policies that require officers to use seat belts whenever transporting prisoners or suspects. This is from page 745 of the policies and procedures manual of the Springfield (Mo.) Police Department, which is available online:
All prisoners transported in a police car shall be secured with a seat belt for their safety.
The manual for the Greene County (Mo.) Sheriff's Office disappeared online after I started writing about how the department's handling of Carol's case differed from official policy. We are in the process now of obtaining a hard copy of the manual, and my guess is that it includes a policy that requires officers to use seat belts when transporting prisoners.
If my guess about that is correct, it means the deputies not only are lying in their written statements, but they also violated departmental policy if they did not use a seat belt.
Either way, Carol is not the flailing type -- and she did not break her own arm in the backseat of a patrol car. We will address the second reason we know that in an upcoming post.
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When we read about Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, which pretty much prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, our first thought was, "Jeff Sessions has to be tied to this somehow." And now, it looks like he is.
House Democrats have written a letter to Sessions, seeking details about a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement in a money-laundering case involving a real-estate concern represented by . . . Natalia Veselnitskaya, the same lawyer who met with Trump Jr. in June 2016.
On top of that, the DOJ has released a portion of Sessions' background-check questionnaire, where he did not report meetings with a Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals. In short, the nation's top law-enforcement officer is shown lying on his security-clearance form. Ouch! Can it get any worse for Sessions, who once held an uber safe U.S. Senate seat from Alabama?
In the money-laundering settlement, the DOJ cut Russian interests a stunningly sweet deal, and House Democrats want to know why. From a report at New York Daily News:
House Judiciary Committee Democrats are questioning why the Trump Justice Department decided to settle a money laundering case on the cheap with a Russian real estate concern repped by the same Russian lawyer who met with his son in June 2016.
House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers and other Dems wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking whether lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had a hand in settlement talks between Russian real estate firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd. and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prevezon agreed in May to pay a $6 million penalty in order to avoid a trial for allegedly laundering money from a $230 million tax fraud.
The Dems’ letter said “the department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”
What might those "underlying facts" have revealed? Here is a take from Mother Jones, with the headline "Democrats Want to Know If Trump Quashed a Russian Money Laundering Case In Return for Dirt on Hillary Clinton." The headline alone suggests a quid pro quo of international scope, not to mention blatant violations of U.S. election laws. Here's more:
In this case, Don Jr. initially said that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she wanted to discuss Russian adoptions. But the law banning Americans from adopting Russian babies is a nothingburger, a minor bit of Putin score-settling enacted in retaliation for Congress passing the Magnitsky Act. When you hear “Russian adoptions,” Magnitsky is the real topic of conversation.
The Magnitsky Act is a set of sanctions designed to punish Russia for arresting and killing Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who had uncovered a state-sanctioned scheme of tax cheating that implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia. Over $200 million was involved, much of it laundered through overseas companies, including several who used the money to buy up high-end Manhattan real estate. One of these companies was Prevezon.
Natalia Veselnitskaya was one of Prevezon’s lawyers. Preet Bharara was the US Attorney prosecuting the case, which was not going well for Prevezon. However, Donald Trump fired Bharara in March, and two months later the Justice Department surprised everyone by abruptly settling the case for $6 million. The settlement was so meager that one of Prevezon’s US attorneys said it was “almost an admission that they shouldn’t have brought the case.” Veselnitskaya herself crowed that it was “almost an apology from the government.”
So: was there a deal made last year? Did Trump campaign aides—or Trump himself—agree to scuttle the case against Prevezon in return for dirt on Hillary Clinton?
How sweet was the deal for Russian interests? This is from a Prevezon press release, issued after the settlement. You can almost hear company executives, and their lawyers, strutting:
From the outset, Prevezon and its owner Denis Katsyv have maintained their innocence and have repeatedly stated that they had no involvement in or knowledge of any fraudulent activities and never received any funds from any criminal activity.
The U.S. Government brought this case without conducting any independent investigation, relying exclusively on the claims of William Browder, a convicted tax evader who CBS News reported in 2012 renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
Prevezon agreed to settle the lawsuit without admitting any guilt for less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the U.S. Government to avoid the exorbitant costs of additional litigation. Importantly, the U.S. Government has agreed that Prevezon's payment does not constitute a forfeiture or penalty long sought by the Government.
Prevezon got off by paying less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the feds? Gee, that's some "tough love." Did Jeff Sessions roll over like a shih tzu and let the Russians scratch his belly? If so, was it all tied to Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, a meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Trump campaign efforts to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton? And did Donald Trump, the president, know all about it?
As for documents revealing Sessions' false statements on security-clearance forms, this is from a report at Politico:
The Justice Department released a portion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' background check questionnaire Thursday, confirming that he did not report meetings with the Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals when he was being vetted for a security clearance earlier this year.
Sessions' aides confirmed in May that he had not listed two meetings with the Russians or hundreds of other meetings with foreign officials, but a liberal watchdog group filed a lawsuit for a copy of the relevant question and answer from Sessions' questionnaire, known as Standard Form 86 or more commonly, an SF-86. . . .
Sessions' aides say an assistant helping him complete the form was told by the FBI that he did not have to list meetings held in his official capacity as a U.S. senator. Sessions says he was acting as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he had the meetings.
The FBI has not commented on whether Sessions completed the form accurately or whether an FBI employee in fact said such meetings were exempt from the reporting requirement.
American Oversight, the watchdog group, is still digging, and its efforts raise anew questions about whether Sessions is fit to serve as AG. Reports Politico:
American Oversight is also seeking any notes the FBI has about how it learned of Sessions' meetings with the Russians and any inquiry the agency made into those contacts. No such information was turned over Thursday.
While special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the American Oversight request and suit did not prompt the FBI to assert the FOIA exemption most commonly used to withhold materials related to pending investigations.
“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to lie to the FBI on an issue of national security," Austin Evers of American Oversight said in a statement. "It’s one thing to know that the Attorney General lied on his security clearance form, but it’s another to see a potential felony in black and white."
"Mr. Sessions has advised federal prosecutors across the country to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties. Special Counsel Robert Mueller should take him at his word," Evers added. "Making false statements in a security clearance application can be a felony, and American Oversight is deeply concerned that Trump administration political appointees may be interfering in the FOIA process to protect the Attorney General from the release of potentially incriminating information."
|X-rays of the comminuted fracture in|
Carol Shuler's arm, showing it broke
into more than two pieces.
We've already shown that Carol was seat-belted and restrained in the patrol car, so she was not able to flail about. But even if she had, her injuries are not consistent with any form of self abuse. They are consistent with trauma, and that's why they required trauma surgery (not orthopedic surgery) for repair.
We recently obtained a copy of Carol's records from Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, where her broken arm was diagnosed and treated. An individual who is knowledgeable about such cases instructed us to look for any notations about a "spiral" fracture, which involves a twisting action and could not be caused by bumping about in a vehicle. It turns out that Carol's records show her injuries were significantly worse than a spiral fracture. (A document from her medical records is embedded at the end of this post.)
Here are findings from an exam at 5:25 p.m. on 9/9/15, the date of our eviction and Carol's injuries. Dr. Jock D. Porter ordered the X-rays, with interpretation from Dr. Kan Ying:
Bones:A large comminuted fracture involving the distal humeral metaphysis. The distal fracture is displaced medially for about 3.5 cm and posteriorly for about 6 mm. There could also be overlapping between proximal and distal fragements for about 15 mm.
These are not words you want to see on your medical chart. They mean your arm has met with violence of a traumatic nature. Consider the definition of a "comminuted fracture:"
A comminuted fracture is a break or splinter of the bone into more than two fragments. Since considerable force and energy is required to fragment bone, fractures of this degree occur after high-impact trauma such as in vehicular accidents.
External fixation devices such as splints and casts are usually inadequate in treating this type of fracture. Repairing a comminuted fracture often requires open surgery to restructure the bone to normal anatomy.
In a spiral fracture, the bone is broken into two or fewer pieces, and surgery usually is not required:
You may develop a spiral fracture pattern in the humerus due to some twisting injuries. You develop it in the shaft of the humerus when you lock your lower arm or have it trapped in machinery while the body rotates. Similarly, direct twisting forces applied during arm wrestling or throwing may also cause a spiral fracture in humerus.
Into how many pieces did Carol's arm break? We have posted X-rays that show at least three distinct pieces. Members of her treatment team told us her injury involved a pulverizing action that left a large number of tiny bone fragments. Some of these were preserved and put back into place for healing, others had to be washed away. It's likely that Carol's bone broke into several dozen pieces; we just don't know. We do know that it was much worse than a spiral fracture.
We also know this type of injury is not seen very often. People hurt themselves from banging into stuff all the time. They don't hurt themselves this way very often; this kind of injury is inflicted upon them:
Distal humerus fractures are uncommon; they account for just about 2 percent of all adult fractures. They can occur on their own, with no other injuries, but can also be a part of a more complex elbow injury.
A "more complex elbow injury?" Yes, the kind where a thuggish cop almost rips your arm off at the elbow -- and then his colleagues lie about it.
We intend to continue our coverage well into the future. The consolidated federal litigation, based in St. Louis, Missouri, might be drawing to a close -- although it still must be approved by a judge. But Ashley Madison still is doing business -- and the social, psychological, and familial ramifications raised by the breach will be ongoing, likely for years.
The settlement story has another Alabama angle to it. One of the three primary law firms representing plaintiffs in the case is Birmingham's Heninger Garrison Davis LLC.
From a CNBC report about the preliminary settlement, which was announced last Friday:
The owner of the Ashley Madison adultery website said on Friday it will pay $11.2 million to settle U.S. litigation brought on behalf of roughly 37 million users whose personal details were exposed in a July 2015 data breach.
Ruby Corp, formerly known as Avid Life Media Inc, denied wrongdoing in agreeing to the preliminary class-action settlement, which requires approval by a federal judge in St. Louis.
Ashley Madison marketed itself as a means to help people, primarily men, cheat on their spouses, and was known for its slogan "Life is short. Have an affair."
But the breach cost privately held Ruby more than a quarter of its revenue, and prompted the Toronto-based company to spend millions of dollars to improve security and user privacy.
The hits Ashley Madison has taken go beyond federal litigation in St. Louis. From CNBC:
Last December, Ruby agreed to pay $1.66 million to settle a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and several states into lax data security and deceptive practices, also without admitting liability.
As for the settlement, users can recover up to $3,500, but it sounds like the process to collect will be cumbersome. Lawyers -- surprise, surprise -- likely will be the financial winners in the whole deal:
Layn Phillips, a former federal judge who mediated the settlement, said in a court filing that the accord offered "a valuable recovery for the class in the face of many obstacles," including Ruby's preference that victims arbitrate their claims.
Lawyers for Ashley Madison users may receive up to one-third of the $11.2 million payout to cover legal fees, court papers show.
Does anyone seriously believe a shabby outfit like Ashley Madison is going to provide customers with genuine security? I don't, and I would not be surprised if there is another data hack -- probably inside of a year. Anyone dumb enough to still be using the site likely deserves whatever might be coming down the road. That the company refuses to admit wrongdoing suggests -- at least to me -- that it isn't serious about data security. Also, the company's press release about the settlement includes language that points to major ass covering -- still. Consider these words:
While ruby denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty, expense, and inconvenience associated with continued litigation, and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of ruby and its customers. In 2015, hackers gained access to ruby's computer networks and published certain personal information contained in Ashley Madison accounts. Account credentials were not verified for accuracy during this time frame and accounts may have been created using other individuals' information. Therefore, ruby wishes to clarify that merely because a person's name or other information appears to have been released in the data breach does not mean that person actually was a member of Ashley Madison.
If a mechanic quoted the automotive equivalent of such words to you, would you want to do business with him? Would you want him anywhere near the engine compartment under the hood of your car? I sure as hell wouldn't. As for Birmingham connections, this is from the first paragraph of the Ruby Corp. release:
TORONTO, July 14, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ruby Corp. and Ruby Life Inc. (ruby), and a proposed class of plaintiffs, co-led by Dowd and Dowd, P.C., The Driscoll Firm, P.C., and Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC, have reached a proposed settlement agreement resolving the class action lawsuits that were filed beginning July 2015 following a data breach of ruby's computer network and subsequent release of certain personal information of customers of Ashley Madison, an online dating website owned and operated by Ruby Life Inc. (formerly Avid Dating Life Inc.) The lawsuits, alleging inadequate data security practices and misrepresentations regarding Ashley Madison, have been consolidated in a multi-district litigation pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Yep, Heninger Garrison Davis, on 1st Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, has been in the middle of the Ashley Madison story for some time. It apparently will be involved in the process of doling out cash for AM customers who can prove they have a legitimate claim.
|Comminuted fracture of Carol|
Shuler's left arm
We recently received Carol's medical records from Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, where her fracture was diagnosed and treated, and she underwent 4-5 months of physical and occupational therapy. (Portions of the records are embedded at the end of this post.) Let's see what those records tell us:
A "shattered" bone
I've used the term "shattered" to describe Carol's injuries here, based on a layman's examination of X-rays. I had no idea if that term actually fit, from a medical sense. It turns out that it does. This is from Carol's Outpatient Rehabilitation Intake Form, dated 10/28/15, roughly seven weeks after the injury and six weeks after surgery:
Purpose of Therapy: Recovery from ortho trauma surgery on shattered left elbow/arm and dislocation on 9/16. Need better ROM (range of motion) and function of arm to normal.
Using the term "shattered" to describe Carol's injuries was not an exaggeration. Members of her medical team used the same term.
A need for oxygen
Carol has reported receiving oxygen twice during the evening on the day she was injured -- once at Cox North and once at Cox South. Notes on the rehab intake form show that she was given oxygen twice on 9/9/15.
Why was Carol given oxygen, twice? We don't know for sure, but the most likely reason is that medical personnel saw signs that she was in danger of going into shock -- and shock, often triggered by blood loss, can kill people if not treated in a timely fashion.
Carol was not bleeding in an external way, one that could be seen. But when I saw her in the hospital, the morning after her injury, her right arm was purple from bruising, from shoulder to finger tip. And that was the unbroken arm. I can only imagine how bad bruising was on the broken arm, which was in a fiberglass splint.
Bruising occurs when blood gets trapped beneath the surface of the skin. This probably is what triggered the need for oxygen in Carol's case -- and concerns about shock.
More about blood loss
As a layman, I had not thought much about blood loss in Carol's case -- either due to the injury or surgery. An Operative Report from her medical records shows she had 150 ml of blood loss. That might be a normal amount due to surgery, but blood loss can be an issue with fractures themselves.
From a Web site about a lawyer who specializes in personal-injury cases that often involve fractures:
Bone is living tissue with its own blood supply. The soft inside center of bone (bone marrow) is where the body makes its blood cells. Between 10-15 million red blood cells are made every second in the bone marrow.
A lot of blood is found inside our bones, especially the long bones in our arms and legs. There are many arteries inside our bones which deliver blood to our bones from the arterial circulation originating from the heart. . . .
Since our bones, especially the long bones in our arms and legs, have a rich blood supply, a broken bone injury can result in excessive bleeding. For example, a bone fracture of the thigh bone (femur) can result in 1-2 liters of blood loss. Substantial bleeding from a bone fracture often causes the victim of a bone fracture injury to go into shock. (Again, this points to the need for oxygen in Carol's case).
The high energy forces from car, truck and motorcycle accidents often cause broken bone injuries where the bone is shattered into many pieces. This type of bone fracture is called a “comminuted fracture.” Shattered bone fragments often have sharp and pointed edges which can tear nearby blood vessels. The most frequent areas where blood vessels are damaged from shattered bone fragments are in the arms and legs.
A comminuted fracture, the kind Carol had, often tears nearby blood vessels? No wonder her medical team was concerned about oxygen, shock, and issues related to blood loss.
A matter of nerve
Carol's Operative Report indicates surgeon Brian Buck performed an "in situ ulnar nerve release" as part of the repair. This indicates Carol's ulnar nerve was damaged, or compressed, near the elbow. From a medical-journal article on the subject:
Ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow is the second most common compression neuropathy in the upper extremity following carpal tunnel syndrome . . . with an estimated prevalence of 1% in the US population. . . .
Trauma and arthritis have both been implicated as causes for ulnar neuropathy. Nevertheless, the most frequent cause of cubital tunnel syndrome remains idiopathic. Multiple potential sites of compression exist along the path of the ulnar nerve.
Concerns about kidney damage
A Consultative Report by Dr. Brian Rekus indicates Carol had a number of elevated pressures -- blood pressure, thyroid, creatinine -- after surgery. Rekus, an internist, was brought in to help manage those.
Elevated creatinine levels signify kidney disease or impaired kidney function. Carol's level was elevated at 1.53, and when checked a few days later, had decreased to 1.3.
The bottom line: Injuries that Missouri deputies inflicted upon Carol went way beyond the broken bones that look downright scary on an X-ray. It's really scary when you review her medical records and see that the severity of her injuries caused issues that, if not treated promptly and properly, could have put her overall health -- even her life -- at risk.
And yet, these same cops treat the matter so blithely that they created written narratives -- hinting that Carol broke her own arm by flailing about in the back seat of a patrol car -- that would have to improve to be absurd. This reflects the utter disregard and contempt too many cops have for the general public -- especially when everyday citizens become the victims of police brutality.
On top of that, cops generally have access to lawyers, who are more than happy to dump on abuse victims, trying to sell bogus law-enforcement stories that have little, or no, resemblance to the truth.
This post, along with the supporting documents below, shows just how badly Carol was injured -- and how easily her condition could have taken a turn in a dark direction. That cops would create written statements that they know are false shows how little they care about those they supposedly "serve and protect."
|Michael E. Stephens|
Of the 36 individuals we have covered in our Ashley Madison (AM) series, we believe businessman Michael E. Stephens is the first to have died. We have focused on prominent corporate and professional types who also were paying customers at the notorious Canada-based Web site that promotes extramarital affairs.
We don't have a net worth for each of our AM subjects, but if we did, Stephens probably would rank near the top. He was a big-time business figure in Alabama for decades before spending his later years in Naples, Florida.
Stephens died on July 1 at age 73. No, his obituary did not mention his activities on Ashley Madison. But it did indicate that he had found happiness in his personal life -- and we hope that was the case.
Without question, Stephens had a golden touch as a businessman. Our original AM-related post about him, published on July 20, 2016, noted that he was the man behind one of the most expensive homes in Alabama. From that post:
Michael E. Stephens, former executive director of Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and founder of the Lakeshore Foundation, owns (or did own) the Resting S Ranch on Cahaba Valley Road (Highway 119) in North Shelby County. The 12,300-square-foot main house sits on 35 acres and is valued at $4.56 million. The entire 82-acre ranch had a list price of $11.65 million in 2011. The property has been on the market, but it's not clear from public records if it has sold.
Ironically, my wife, Carol, and I used to live just off Highway 119, too, about four miles east of Mr. Stephens' property, until corrupt political forces in Alabama swiped our home of 25 years out from under us, via a wrongful foreclosure. The houses in our neighborhood, Broken Bow South, were not quite as extravagant as Mr. Stephens' domicile (to put it mildly), but our house there fit us just right, we invested a lot of financial and sweat equity in it, we loved it, and to say we miss it would be putting it mildly.
We drove by Mr. Stephens' Resting S Ranch many times, although my memory is that you barely could catch a glimpse of the main house, which is way off the highway.
|Resting S Ranch|
It still burns me that our house had begun to show wear and tear, thanks to the political forces connected to former Gov. Bob Riley and his son, Rob "Uday" Riley, who cheated me (UAB) and Carol (Infinity Insurance) out of our jobs. One of my No. 1 goals in life is to get our house back and make sure the SOBs who stole it from us are held accountable.
As for Michael E. Stephens, his life was not just about dollars and cents. There was an inspirational component to it, also. From his obituary:
Born in Selma, Alabama, Mr. Stephens moved to Birmingham in 1946. In 1970 he suffered a spinal cord injury from a diving accident. Although at the time he had already begun a successful career in the publishing industry, that injury, and the grueling recovery process, changed the focus of Stephens's life and ultimately had a profound impact on his personal, professional, civic and philanthropic activities. After intensive rehabilitation during which he learned to walk again, he returned to the University of Montevallo in 1973 to complete a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business. He then went on to earn a Masters of Science Degree from the School of Health Professions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Mr. Stephens held a number of business interests, from publishing to banking, but he left his real mark on rehabilitation medicine. From his obituary:
Mr. Stephens became executive director of Lakeshore Hospital in 1975 when it was still a small rehabilitation facility. Based on his experience during rehabilitation he was determined to eliminate the fragmentation of services that often hampered the recovery of people with physical disabilities. During the next decade, he transformed Lakeshore Hospital into what Forbes magazine called "… a model laboratory for his ideas about rehabilitation." It was his creation of a disabled sports program at Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital which ultimately developed into the founding of Lakeshore Foundation in 1984. Mr. Stephens' progress with Lakeshore Hospital led to his founding of ReLife in 1986. As president and CEO, he guided the organization to national prominence as an effective, comprehensive rehabilitation system. At the time that ReLife merged with HealthSouth Corporation in 1994 the company had 46 rehabilitation facilities located in 12 states. Mr. Stephens' passion, the Lakeshore Foundation, is internationally known as a model organization for providing sports, recreation, fitness and research programs for those with physical disabilities. Because of this success, it was designated as an official US Olympic and Paralympic training site.
I don't think I ever met Mr. Stephens, and I certainly did not run in his financial circle, but our social circles intersected a bit. That's because, in my journalism career, I covered UAB Blazer athletics in various capacities from 1978 to 2008 and became friends with the late athletics director and Hall of Fame coach Gene Bartow. I recall that Coach Bartow mentioned Mr. Stephens several times, knew that he loved horses, and was thankful that Mr. Stephens had been a financial supporter of UAB athletics.
Gene Bartow was one of my favorite people on earth, so if he thought highly of Michael E. Stephens, I tended to think Mr. Stephens must be a pretty good guy, too.
As for Mr. Stephens'Ashley Madison activities, I tend to cut him slack there. I have no idea why he signed up a site that he probably knew was not worth his time. Maybe he just got bored one night -- rich people get bored, too, don't they? -- and put his name on an account that he figured would never see the light of day. On the personal front, we learn this about Mr. Stephens from his obit:
For many, Mike Stephens, became the role model, encourager, and inspiration for significant life changes. His wife, Allison, who he often called "My Angel", gave him a music box one year for his birthday. The music box played "The Wind Beneath My Wings"; on the inside, the inscription read "Mike, your life, your love and your friendship are special gifts, treasured by me and countless others. Thank you for providing the 'wind.'" Following his death, she said, "now Mike will forever be My Angel."
Life was not always a breeze for Mike Stephens. In addition to his spinal-cord injury, he was on the board of Superior Bank, which went through major turbulence in the 2000s and was closed by the FDIC in 2011. It became the first billion-dollar bank failure of 2011. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2016 filed fraud charges against 11 former executives of Superior Bank.
What role, if any, did Mike Stephens play in the failure of Superior Bank? That is not clear from published reports. This is from an article about his re-election to a one-year term on the board in 2006. It's not clear if Stephens was involved with the bank when it went into a nosedive:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 18 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The Banc Corporation (Nasdaq: TBNC) announced today at its annual meeting that its shareholders have approved the change of its corporate name to Superior Bancorp and that it will begin trading under the NASDAQ symbol SUPR on May 19, 2006. In addition, Stan Bailey, Roger Barker, K. Earl Durden, Rick Gardner, Thomas Jernigan, Jr., James Mailon Kent, James M. Link, Barry Morton, Robert R. Parrish, Jr., Marvin Scott, Michael E. Stephens, James A. Taylor and James C. White, Sr. were re-elected to one year terms on Superior Bancorp's Board of Directors."
Public records indicate Stephens went through at least two divorces, but he seems to have found contentment in his later years.
In the end, Mike Stephens did a lot of good on this planet, and he touched a lot of people. Maybe that's because he came across as human -- the kind of guy who could make mistakes, like signing up for Ashley Madison, but bounce back from them. We'd say his was a life well lived.
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