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- 04/18/13--03:19: _Siegelman Case Invo...
- 04/19/13--03:14: _Federal Authorities...
- 04/22/13--03:22: _The Court Docket In...
- 04/23/13--03:15: _New Court Ruling Mi...
- 04/24/13--03:22: _Black, Female Judge...
- 04/25/13--03:28: _Federal Lawsuit All...
- 04/29/13--03:09: _Here Is Evidence Th...
- 04/29/13--08:21: _Federal Lawsuit All...
- 04/30/13--03:38: _After Serving Six Y...
- 05/01/13--03:26: _Luther Strange Thre...
- 05/01/13--08:30: _Blow Jobs, Breast F...
- 05/02/13--03:11: _Office of Luther St...
- 05/06/13--03:31: _Hunting Clubs Prove...
- 05/07/13--03:09: _Alabama Lobbyist Wh...
- 05/08/13--03:02: _AG Luther Strange D...
- 05/08/13--13:53: _Richard Scrushy Shi...
- 05/09/13--03:17: _Victim of Sexual Ha...
- 05/13/13--03:07: _From Bogus Lawsuits...
- 05/13/13--08:20: _Settlement Agreemen...
- 05/14/13--03:24: _Batiste Alleges Dis...
Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy was released from federal prison last summer after serving six years for bribing former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. But Scrushy said he didn't have a "meeting of the minds" with Siegelman on any of the issues that prosecutors claim constituted a crime. In fact, Scrushy says, he didn't meet with Siegelman at all. That's largely because he barely knew Siegelman, he did not support his election campaigns, and he did not support the education lottery that was central to the governor's term--and ultimately, the government's criminal case.
How on earth did Scrushy get convicted for bribing a governor he hardly knew, did not support, and did not meet with--over a seat on a health-care regulatory board that Scrushy says he did not want? That might go down as one of the great mysteries in the history of American criminal law. To make it more stunning, Scrushy says the government got it wrong about the person he met with and the amount of money involved.
That is one of many revelations from Scrushy's recent interview with San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins. We already have reported that key testimony from former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey was deeply flawed, and prosecutors offered to let Scrushy out of the case in exchange for false testimony against Siegelman. Now we learn that central "facts" in the government's story were wildly off target. A podcast of the full interview can be heard here.
Perhaps most important is this: The government said Scrushy bribed Siegelman for a seat on the Alabama Certificate of Need Board (CON), but Scrushy said he did not even want to be on the board. How do you bribe someone for something you do not want? Here is Scrushy, from the Collins interview:
When Governor Siegelman was elected, he asked me to serve [on the CON board], and I said no. I had no interest in serving. I had resigned under the previous governor, Fob James; I did not complete my three-year term under Fob James. . . . I didn’t want to go to the meetings, and I was tired of it.
That leads to a second major flaw in the government's version of events. Scrushy's rejection touched a nerve with the new administration, but the CEO did not hear about it from the governor. He heard about it from former Alabama Power CEO Elmer Harris, who was chief of the Siegelman transition team. In fact, Scrushy's communications were pretty much exclusively via Harris--and none of them involved a "meeting of the minds" that would amount to a bribe:
Governor Siegelman’s transition chief, Elmer Harris--who was president of Alabama Power--came to see me, and he said, “Look, the governor really wants you to do this. You’ve served under these other governors, and it’s really an insult to tell him you’re not going to do it.” I didn’t have a relationship with Governor Siegelman, I didn’t support him, I had not given any money for his campaign. But [Elmer Harris] said, "Will you serve some time [on the board]?" And I said, "I will give them a year, and then I’m going to leave." And that’s exactly what I did."
A third flaw in the government's story, Scrushy says, involves the amount of money he eventually gave. Court documents and press reports repeatedly have said Siegelman wanted, and Scrushy gave, $500,000. But Scrushy says he only gave $250,000--and that did not involve a "meeting of the minds" regarding a seat on the CON board. In fact, Scrushy says, he already was on the CON at the time of the donation and was about to go off the board, per his agreement with Elmer Harris.
What has caused confusion about the amount of Scrushy's donation? Scrushy says it's probably because the Siegelman administration asked him for money twice--once for the education-lottery campaign and once to help pay off debt once the referendum had been defeated.
The first request met with a flat rejection from Scrushy. But he says a member of the HealthSouth team helped arrange a donation from another source, a company called Integrated Health Services (IHS), based in Maryland. From the Collins interview:
I was in a management meeting at HealthSouth and told my people the governor had called and asked if I would help, and I told him no. One of our guys called an investment banker in New York and said if they knew of anybody who wanted to help, let him know. Apparently they did have a company that was doing business in Alabama and wanted to get involved, and they donated $250,000. It had nothing to do with me at all.
Scrushy's only contribution, of $250,000, came after the lottery had been defeated, and the Siegelman administration was dealing with debt left from the campaign:
They had to pay off the debt to the Democratic Party, and wealthy businessmen in Alabama had signed on the note and were paying down that debt. Elmer Harris again came to see me, and he said Alabama Power was putting in $100,000, and ALFA Insurance was putting in a bunch, and he named a bunch of other companies that were paying it down. He said, "You’ve never helped the governor and never given him a dime, you’ve never done anything in the state of Alabama to help this guy. Can you help these businessmen pay down this note?" And I said, “OK, I will put in $250,000."
Now, I already was leaving the CON board. And we wrote a check to help pay down that debt to the Alabama Democratic Party, which was all we ever put in. But it’s still in the media that I gave $500,000.
In the interview with Collins, Scrushy still seems to have a hard time believing he was prosecuted, much less convicted, for actions that did not come close to meeting the definition of a federal bribe. He points a finger for the whole charade squarely at Republican strategist Karl Rove, who apparently wanted to make sure that Siegelman, a Democrat, could not continue to win races in a GOP stronghold:
[Siegelman] and I never had a conversation about any of this. The transition chief sat down with me and said, "Richard, you need to help. Everybody else is helping. You run a large corporation, and you need to help get these businessmen off that note. . . . " I felt a corporate duty for me to help too, but the question is, "Why weren't these other people [who helped] indicted . . . ?" It was politically convenient for them to pull me into this because of what I had been through at HealthSouth. . . .
Siegelman was going to win the governorship again, and Karl Rove didn’t want that to happen. [The governor and I] never had a conversation about, "Richard would you help me do this or that?" It just didn’t happen.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
Richard Scrushy: Convictions In The Siegelman Case Are Grounded In A Former Aide's Flawed Testimony (April 8, 2013)
Feds Promised To Release Scrushy From Prosecution If He Provided False Testimony Against Siegelman (April 9, 2013)
|Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse|
How can I say with certainty that federal justice officials are trying to cheat my wife in a case styled Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP)? A review of the court docket, and official actions in the case, can lead to no other conclusion--at least none that come to my mind. All of this indicates my wife has an extremely strong case, and powerful interests in the Alabama legal and insurance communities are making underhanded efforts to deprive her of any shot at justice.
Mrs. Schnauzer (MS) is representing herself, acting pro se, and that means she must rely on the U.S. mail to receive documents from the court; only members of the bar are allowed to file and receive documents electronically. She failed to receive several key documents last December and filed a motion, notifying the court that she had not been served and asking for a time extension to file objections. Putnam granted the motion but stated at a hearing, and in an order, that it was her responsibility to ensure she received mail--and hinted that he might dismiss her case if she missed deadlines due to mail issues in the future.
We suspected then that someone intentionally was failing to mail documents to MS. Subsequent events leave no doubt that our suspicions were on target.
How do we know? The scheme started to become clear to us when U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, on March 29, filed an order and memorandum opinion regarding the magistrate's recommendations in the case to that point. Kallon had presided over the related case under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which MS alleges led to her unlawful termination at Infinity. Kallon's actions in the earlier case disqualify him from hearing the current case, so MS filed a motion to recuse on April 5. (The motion can be viewed at the end of this post.)
The key point in the recusal motion is summarized in item No. 5:
5. Judge Kallon already has demonstrated prejudice against Shuler requiring his recusal, per 28 U.S.C. 455, Section b (1). In addition, Kallon presided over another lawsuit, Roger and Carol Shuler v. Ingram & Associates, et al (Civil Action 2:08-cv-1238-AKK), which is central to the current proceeding. Under 28 U.S.C. 455, Section b (1), it states that a judge shall disqualify himself in circumstances where “he has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding.”
When MS filed the document at the Hugo Black Courthouse--as a pro se litigant, she must file documents in person, the old-fashioned way--she checked the docket report for the case and noticed a number of peculiarities. (Pertinent segments of the April 5 docket report can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Most peculiar was this: Four days earlier, on April 1 (April Fool's Day), an order had been entered setting a scheduling conference before Putnam at 10 a.m. on April 10. This was news to us because we had not received notice of the conference via U.S. mail.
Here's what I said to my wife upon learning of that docket entry on April 5: "They've had four days to notify you about the April 10 conference, and they haven't done it. They have five more days to notify you, and I bet they won't do it. In fact, I bet they have no intention of notifying you. Given Putnam's warning, they probably are counting on you not to show up, so he can dismiss your case."
MS agreed, and she vowed to be there on April 10 to see what would happen. "Here's what I think will happen," I told her. "You will catch them off guard, and they will have to come up with some sort of excuse about why you weren't notified by mail. They also will have to come up with some excuse for postponing or canceling the conference because they probably have no intention of having one."
My predictions don't often come true, but this one was pretty much on the mark. We arrived at 9:55 a.m. on April 10 to find an empty courtroom. A security guard stuck his head in the door and said, "I heard this session has been canceled."
"We didn't receive notice that it's been canceled," my wife said. "We didn't receive notice about it at all."
A few moments later, a young man entered the courtroom and identified himself as David Waters, Judge Putnam's law clerk. A couple of other guys entered at about the same time and stood facing us, with their backs to the bench. It was as if they expected us to somehow try to steal the judge's roost.
"Judge Putnam isn't here today," Waters said.
"He isn't here?" we said, more or less in unison. "He scheduled this."
"Well, I'm sorry," Waters said. "But he isn't here. It's been rescheduled."
We noted that we had driven roughly 30 miles round-trip for this conference and didn't appreciate showing up to be told it's been postponed. We also noted that we had received no formal notice about the conference and only knew of it from checking the docket on a public computer. We asked why my wife had repeatedly failed to receive court documents in the mail. Waters got a sheepish look on his face and offered no answer.
"You know this case is damned important to us," I said, "Everyone in this courthouse seems to treat it like a joke. We've had cases before Judge Acker and Judge Kallon that have been treated like jokes."
At this point, one of the two other fellows stepped forward and informed me I shouldn't curse Mr. Waters.
"Who are you?" I said.
"I'm with the U.S. Marshals Service."
"Why are you here?"
"I'm here for another proceeding."
"Well, Mr. Waters is Judge Putnam's clerk, and we need to ask him some questions about what happened to this conference. And I didn't curse him. I used a word to emphasize how important this matter is to us."
With that, Waters gave us the new date for the hearing and we started out the door. I stuck my head back in to make one more point to the man from the marshals service. "You're here because you knew this was a scam, and you knew we probably were going to be angry about what's being done."
The guy didn't reply, and we left.
Previously in the series:
We Catch Federal Court Employees In A Con Game On My Wife's Lawsuit Against Infinity Insurance (April 11, 2013)
Does The Federal Justice System Deserve Our Trust, In Boston, Birmingham, Or Anywhere In Between? (April 16, 2013)
|Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse|
These are just some of several oddities that strongly suggest someone is manipulating the judicial process in a case styled Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP). These machinations probably amount to obstruction of justice and possibly other federal crimes. (Pertinent segments of the April 10 docket report can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Mrs. Schnauzer (MS) appeared on April 10 for a scheduling conference that U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam had set 10 days earlier. MS never received notice of the conference via U.S. mail--and as a pro se litigant, that is her only means of getting court documents--but she learned of it by checking the court docket in person at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse on April 5. That caused her to show up for the hearing and apparently foiled someone's plan to concoct grounds for dismissing her case.
How ugly is this scenario? A document rescheduling the conference for 10 a.m. today--and MS did receive notice of that in the mail--gives an idea. (The rescheduling order can be viewed at the end of this post.)
My wife and I appeared for the April 10 conference at about 9:52 a.m., roughly eight minutes early. We arrived to find an empty courtroom, and judicial clerk David Waters appeared at about 10 to tell us that Judge Putnam was not there that day.
That's peculiar because the rescheduling order shows it was filed at 9:54 a.m. on April 10--and it was signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Michael Putnam. What does that tell us? It tells me that someone probably was on the lookout for MS that morning, with instructions to file a rescheduling order if she appeared at the courthouse door. It also tells me that Putnam was there that morning, and Waters was told to lie to us on the judge's behalf.
Is this the only sign of underhanded actions in my wife's lawsuit? Not at all. Consider these:
A Premature Conference
The hearing that was reset for today is billed as a scheduling conference under Rule 16(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). That's strange because such a hearing normally does not take place until the parties have conferred to develop a discovery plan, under Rule 26(f) FRCP. Why is Putnam, in a classic case of "putting the cart before the horse," trying to set a schedule when the parties have not conferred about a discovery plan? In my view, it's probably a sign the judge and the defendants want to skip the discovery process altogether.
Plaintiff's Motions Put On Hold
MS filed three motions on March 25--all opposition or objections to various documents that had been filed by the court or defendants. The court docket shows that all three of her motions were not entered into the record until April 1, one week after they had been filed. A check of the full docket shows that almost all other documents were entered either the day they were filed or the next day. Why did that not happen on MS's motions? Well, the record shows the delay allowed U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon to file an order on March 29--it also was entered on March 29--that dismissed a number of individual defendants from the case. These dismissals were one of the primary points to which MS objected, but it appears that her motions intentionally were kept out of the record until after Kallon had issued his order.
The Disappearing Documents On Certified Mail
Gregory Kees is a central defendant in MS's case. He was her boss at Infinity, the guy who fired her for allegedly being tardy after he had told her to change her start time from 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. in order to assist with the company's large client base in California. Not long after MS filed her lawsuit, she received word from Infinity that Kees no longer worked there and could not be served at his work location. A lawyer for Infinity stated that she would ensure Kees was notified of the case and assist with service on him--but that never happened. MS had not been able to find a home address or new work location for Kees, so he was dismissed without prejudice due to lack of service. MS, however, discovered Kees' home address and filed documents to have him served via certified mail on March 25. The filing of those service documents should be entered in the docket--such documents are noted for all other defendants--but there is no mention of them for Gregory Kees. Why? Greg Kees, more than anyone else at Infinity, probably knows who was behind my wife's unlawful termination--and that's why someone does not want him as part of the case. (The documents related to service of Gregory Kees via certified mail can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Over the 12-plus years that MS and I have been fighting court corruption, we've seen judges and lawyers repeatedly act as if we are too stupid to read documents and understand how we are being cheated. That trend clearly is continuing in my wife's employment case.
|Sarah Rollins (right), with her sister,|
Emma, and father, Ted
The Rollinses, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and other highly profitable enterprises, are one of the nation's wealthiest families. But the clan's patriarchs apparently have a habit of keeping the next generation largely in the dark about trust funds. That sparked a lawsuit in 2010, with four of Gary Rollins' children alleging that their father and his brother, Randall Rollins, had breached their fiduciary duty as trustees. A recent Georgia appellate ruling found that the children's case presented issues that should be determined by a jury.
Randall and Gary Rollins are the heads of Atlanta-based Rollins Inc., the umbrella company for Orkin Pest Control, RPC Inc. (formerly Rollins Energy Services), and other entities. But they now stand accused of essentially raiding trust funds for their own benefit, and a Georgia court has found those claims should go to trial. (The full appellate ruling can be viewed at the end of this post.)
How might this shape the Rollins story in Alabama? The answer to that question remains unclear, but we do know this: Ted Rollins, Randall and Gary's cousin, is CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, a developer of student housing near public universities around the country. Campus Crest has four projects in Alabama, and Ted Rollins played a central role in a divorce case here that resulted in a monstrous cheat job against his ex wife, Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins, and their two daughters. One of those daughters, 19-year-old Sarah Rollins, apparently has a trust fund about which she knows almost nothing.
Many questions surround Sarah Rollins' trust fund. In what state was it established? What rules govern disbursements to her as beneficiary? Who are the trustees, and have they fulfilled their legal duties to her? But Sherry Rollins has provided information that indicates the trust fund exists--and under the law, Sarah Rollins almost certainly has a right to know about it.
A New York Times article in March 2013 states that in almost all states, an 18-year-old is considered an adult who is entitled to know about provisions of a trust fund. Sherry Rollins says her daughter is mostly in the dark about her trust fund--and Ms. Rollins says she has seen signs that Ted Rollins wants to keep it that way.
What is the genesis of the Rollins trust-fund feud in Atlanta? We wrote about it in an October 26, 2010, post titled "A Wealthy Republican Family Hangs Out Its Dirty Laundry Down South." Here's how Atlanta Business Chronicle reporter Jacques Couret outlined the current issues in a report dated April 1, 2013:
At the heart of the case is a feud over how Gary W. Rollins handles his children’s trusts. Glen Rollins, his brother O. Wayne Rollins II and sisters Ruth Ellen Rollins and Nancy Louise Rollins in August 2010 sued their father, Gary, and uncle, Randall, for their handling of several family trusts. Two days after the children filed their lawsuit, Gary Rollins’ wife of nearly 45 years, Ruth, filed for divorce.
How nasty can these sorts of issues get in a wealthy family? Jacques Couret's report provides a clue:
The siblings filed suit over the trust that had been established for them, and how they stood to be paid under the plan known as the Rollins Perpetual Management Trust.
That lawsuit led to Glen Rollins being fired from his executive positions with Rollins on Sept. 7, 2010. He left Rollins Inc. in April 2011.
Ouch! A son gets booted out of the family firm because he asks questions about funds to which it appears he is legally entitled?
Randall and Gary Rollins have shown signs that they can get vicious when confronted about their actions as trustees. Ted Rollins also has shown signs that he is willing to threaten alarming actions when confronted about Sarah Rollins' trust fund.
How exactly has Ted Rollins behaved under such circumstances? We will answer that question in upcoming posts.
(To be continued)
|Alabama Judge Sibley|
Reynolds (second from right)
at a hunting club.
Are racism, sexism, and corruption alive and well in a Deep South court system? Are Alabama courtrooms, long infested with a hunting-club culture among lawyers and judges, operating like artifacts from the 1930s?
With news yesterday that Jefferson County Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste has been suspended from the bench, the answer to both questions appears to be yes. That is especially true when the allegations against Baptiste are compared to the actions of Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds.
We have reported on multiple federal lawsuits that allege Alabama judges and attorneys meet at hunting clubs to fix divorce cases. Judge Reynolds, based on the photo above (plus others that we've received from at least one Web site) clearly is active on the hunting-club scene. We've seen no signs that Judge Batiste enjoys hanging out in the woods, shooting wild animals, and cutting corrupt deals with white divorce lawyers.
Is that why Batiste finds herself on suspension, while Reynolds seems to make unlawful rulings at will from his perch in central Alabama? Do hunting-club judges receive hands-off treatment, while those outside the clique are singled out for sanctions? Sure looks that way from here.
What made Batiste a target of the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC)? Here is how a report at al.com explains it:
Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Dorothea Batiste has been suspended from the bench with pay after the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission last week filed a complaint against her stating she had entered unlawful contempt orders for the arrest of parties or witnesses in divorce cases.
An attorney for Batiste this evening denied the allegations in the complaint, saying the charges against her were being led by a former Jefferson County judge. He said a judge must have the power to issue contempt charges or lose control of the courtroom.
"The whole thing is a huge travesty of justice," said Julian McPhillips, attorney for Batiste.
McPhillips says retired Jefferson County Judge Scott Vowell is leading the attack against Batiste. That is the same Scott Vowell, who as presiding judge, allowed hunting-club corruption to become a major issue in domestic-relations court. (The full JIC complaint can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Here are more specifics on the charges against Batiste:
The [JIC] complaint states the allegations are based on Batiste's violation of Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics "through her repeated failure in 2011 and 2012 to comply with both Alabama and federal law regarding her exercise of contempt power . . . in a series of domestic relations cases in Jefferson County Circuit Court ("the subject cases") in which Judge Batiste entered unauthorized, unwarranted, and unlawful orders for the arrest and jailing or incarceration of litigants or witnesses."
Let's compare that to the actions of Judge Sibley Reynolds in the case of Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt. As we reported in a series of posts last year, Ms. Wyatt spent almost five months in jail because of her failure to pay a property-related debt in a divorce case.
It's not as if the controlling law is complicated. Sec. 20 of the Alabama Constitution (1901) plainly states that "no person shall be imprisoned for debt." A search through case law reveals one exception to that general rule, but it does not apply to Bonnie Wyatt's situation. That means she has been unlawfully jailed for almost four months . . . and counting.
Despite clear prohibitions under Alabama law, Judge Reynolds kept Bonnie Wyatt locked up for almost five months. As I write this, Ms. Wyatt is being forced to sell her home, based on an "agreement" that was reached at the threat of her returning to jail. A contract reached under such duress is unlawful, but Ms. Wyatt's house could be sold any day now.
Has Reynolds faced sanctions for his unlawful actions? Apparently not, and multiple readers have told me they have filed JIC complaints against Reynolds. The response from the commission, so far, has been silence.
It certainly is possible that Dorothea Batiste has made mistakes in her brief time on the bench; the JIC complaint portrays a judge who has a tendency to be heavy-handed. But our primary question is this: Would Judge Batiste be home free if she took part in Alabama's hunting-club scene--if she followed Sibley Reynolds' lead and donned camouflage gear to hang out in the woods and cut deals?
The answer, in my view, is yes.
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Plaintiffs claim they and other Macon County voters have been the victims of a Republican Party plan that involves the use of Indian gaming funds to help take over all three branches of the Alabama government. The scheme, plaintiffs state, essentially nullifies their lawful votes to allow electronic bingo at VictoryLand.
Macon County is home to historic Tuskegee Institute, which was founded by Booker T. Washington and featured George Washington Carver as perhaps its most noted teacher.
The lawsuit, which names Strange and Governor Robert Bentley as defendants, alleges multiple violations of the U.S. Voting Rights Act, resulting in discrimination against residents of a county that is almost 82 percent black. Plaintiffs seek a declaration that Strange's actions constitute voting-rights violations, an injunction against future law-enforcement raids in Macon County, and a return of property seized at VictoryLand. (The full complaint can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Ford held a press conference on April 5 to announce filing of the lawsuit, but the mainstream Alabama press largely has ignored the story. We found reports at The Tuskegee News, the Opelika-Auburn News, and Courthouse News Service. But we found no coverage in newspapers serving Alabama's four largest cities--the Montgomery Advertiser, plus al.com newspapers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville.
How can so-called news organizations ignore a story that raises weighty, constitutional matters? It's hard to fathom an answer, but it certainly is not because the lawsuit deals only with bingo. At its heart, the lawsuit alleges a conspiracy between Indian tribes and white Republicans to deprive black Alabamians of constitutional protections.
Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, and Christopher Ford, of Tuskegee, serve as co-counsel for plaintiffs. The lawsuit is supported by exhibits that are about 10 inches thick, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. From the complaint:
Beginning in 2003, white political leaders of the Alabama and National Republican Party . . . , including but not limited to Governor Bob Riley, initiated plans to elect white Republicans to the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government in the State of Alabama, allegedly referred to as "Operation 2010."
In order to raise funds to accomplish their goal, Alabama Republican leaders and elected officials entered into a scheme with the Mississippi Choctaw Indians Casino Operators . . . and later the Alabama Poarch Band of Creek Indian Casino Operators. . . .
This scheme included eliminating competition to Indian Gaming from non-Indian Gaming, including "VictoryLand" located in Macon County, Alabama. Eliminating VictoryLand served the dual goals of both by providing Indian Gaming a monopoly in Alabama and shutting off potential non-Indian Gaming . . . contributions that Republican political leaders feared could be used to thwart their political plans.
Plaintiffs go on to describe what amounts to a massive money-laundering operation at the national level:
The Choctaws, and later the Poarch Creeks, were able to disguise millions of dollars of contributions through Republican-based nonprofit organizations, including but not limited to, the National Christian Coalition, the Alabama Christian Coalition, the Alabama-based Republican Governors' Association and other Republican-based Political Action Committees ("PACs").
Indian Gaming funds were disguised in this manner to hide from the Alabama electorate that Republican candidates, whom they believed were opposed to all forms of gambling, were in fact taking millions of dollars from Indian Gaming.
Why has the mainstream Alabama press refused to cover this story? Perhaps the answer can be found in the complaint, which offers a brief recitation of our state's sad history with politics and racism. Such ugliness, the complaint suggests, continues today--based on evidence presented at the Alabama bingo prosecution of 2011. Once again, it seems, federal intervention is required to enforce basic constitutional rights in the Deep South:
The State of Alabama has a long history of utilizing the state constitution and the power of central state government to deny African Americans in Black Belt counties, such as Macon County, the ability to govern themselves and to make and to enforce laws of their choice. . . .
This Court uncovered more recent attempts to deny African Americans in Black Belt counties the ability to govern themselves and to make and to enforce laws of their choice when it found "clear evidence of political manipulation motivated by racism." Two white Republican Senators and other white "influential Republican legislative allies" were recorded discussing their political strategy to keep a proposed constitutional amendment off the ballot because: "Every black, every illiterate would be bused on HUD financed buses." The recordings took place in the office of a white Republican state legislator in the Alabama Statehouse. This Court determined that: "The [white Republican Senators'] recordings present compelling evidence that political exclusion through racism remains a real and enduring problem in this State. Today, while racist sentiments may have been relegated to private discourse rather than on the floor of the state legislature . . . it is still clear that such sentiments remain regrettably entrenched in the high echelons of state government."
The Macon County lawsuit shines new light on racism in high places--and the Alabama mainstream press clearly wants no part of telling that story.
|Infinity Insurance headquarters|
in Birmingham, AL
One of the sad truths about our justice system is that courtroom corruption often is a multi-headed monster. In many cases, it is not a matter of a crooked judge or a crooked lawyer, operating in isolation. Much courtroom sleaze turns on collaborations between crooked judges and lawyers, joining greasy hands to ensure that one party or another is denied justice. In the background, you often will find a corporate defendant, whose officers know the system is being compromised on their behalf.
We see signs that such a twisted scheme is unfolding in my wife's ongoing employment lawsuit against Birmingham-based Infinity Insurance. Will it pay off for the underhanded legal types who are involved? Not as long as Mrs. Schnauzer (MS) and I have a collective pulse.
As a couple, we've been dealing with court-related corruption for 12-plus years, and our tolerance for such shenanigans has grown past the point of thin. We also have become fairly adept at recognizing con jobs not long after they are set in motion. Experience has taught us that judges and lawyers make bad criminals; they often leave paper trails, and as a group, folks with legal training tend to greatly overrate their own intelligence.
A scheduling order was set last Monday in Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP), with deadlines set for discovery, dispositive motions, and such. That seems straightforward enough, but we have learned that nothing ever is quite as it seems at the Hugo Black U.S. Courthouse in downtown Birmingham. (The scheduling order can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Here is something curious: When we arrived for the April 22 scheduling hearing, four defense lawyers already were present, lined up on the front row. The lawyers, and their clients, were W. Hill Sewell, of Lloyd Gray Whitehead & Monroe, for lawyer Laura Nettles; Kary B. Wolfe, of Jones Walker Wechter Poitvent, Carrere & Denegre, for lawyer Angie Ingram; Charles M. Elmer, of Jackson Lewis, for Infinity Insurance; and M. Jansen Voss, of Scott Sullivan Streetman & Fox, for American Express.
The scheduling conference originally had been set for April 10, but we arrived that day to find an empty courtroom. David Waters, law clerk for U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam, told us that the judge suddenly was not present that day, and the conference had been reset for 12 days in the future.
Court documents show that the April 10 hearing was postponed six minutes before it was to start. It was set for a 10 a.m. start that day, and a rescheduling order shows that the postponement was made at 9:54 a.m. (The rescheduling order can be viewed at the end of this post.)
This obvious question likely will enter the minds of observant readers: Why were the four defense lawyers, who were ready and accounted for on April 22, nowhere in sight on April 10? How did they know about a postponement that was not set, according to public records, until six minutes prior to the scheduled start?
I can think of only one answer--the defense lawyers knew in advance that the April 10 hearing was not going to take place. They knew the court had intentionally not notified Mrs. Schnauzer of the hearing, and they knew Putnam was planning for my wife not to show, so he would have an excuse to unlawfully dismiss her case.
All of this indicates that at least six individuals with law degrees--the four defense lawyers, plus Putnam and his law clerk, David Waters--are involved in a conspiracy to knowingly deprive my wife of due process. Perhaps of even more significance, this almost certainly constitutes obstruction of justice and other federal crimes. By definition, a crime is a wrong against society, so this involves harm to all of us, not just Mrs. Schnauzer.
The scheme probably does not stop there. Members of the Infinity Insurance board of directors, which includes former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, probably know criminal acts are being taken on their behalf.
So that is the reality that many everyday Americans face when they engage in a courtroom battle. Lined up against them are judges, lawyers, and crooked corporate types--forming a "Bermuda triangle" of injustice that often is very poorly hidden.
Update at 10:15 a.m. on 4/29/13
I am not the only journalist paying attention to Mrs. Schnauzer's case. Andrew Kreig, of the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project (JIP), also is keeping watch. In a piece out today, titled "Shocking Alabama Legal Irregularities Continue," Kreig provides an excellent overview on the sad state of the justice system in one Deep-South state.
Kreig focuses heavily on the legal struggles involving non-Indian gaming, especially the unfolding story of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, VictoryLand Owner Milton McGregor, and Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford. Kreig also focuses on the prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, giving special attention to Scrushy's recent interview with San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins--plus a recent piece by law professor Bennett Gershman, a leading academic expert on prosecutorial abuse. The Gershman piece, published recently at Huffington Post, is titled "Why is Don Siegelman still in jail?"
As for the Mrs. Schnauzer case, Kreig sought comment from three key figures in the case--U.S. Magistrate Judge T. Michael Putnam, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, and law clerk David Waters. It turns out that none of those folks replied to his queries. From Kreig's article:
Shuler, as usual in his nearly five-day-per-week columns, has recently reported a number of other legal irregularities involving Alabama's attorney general and other prominent figures in the state. A former reported for nearly 20 years with the state's largest newspaper, Shuler typically probes cases from the standpoint of litigants victimized by lawyers or other court officials.
That kind of labor-intensive reporting is regarded these days by most news organizations as too expensive. It is easier for the most part to obtain news materials directly from prosecutors and their news releases. The Birmingham News and the state's two other largest newspapers have even moved away from daily print publication. For such reasons, a study this week announced that newspaper reporting is the now the nation's "worst" profession, with a six percent annual decline in employment expected.
Shuler nonetheless has continued even after being fired from his job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He has alleged in a pending lawsuit that the firing was improper retaliation for creating a blog in his free time and without university resources to report on the legal system. His wife, Carol, was later fired from her job with an insurance agency. She has filed a suit also pending claiming improper dismissal for reasons of political retaliation against her husband's blogging work.
Kreig then provides additional insight on the curious actions of judges and lawyers in my wife's case.
Her case is pending in Birmingham's federal court before a U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam under the overall jurisdiction of U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon, a native of the Sierra Leone nominated to the bench by President Obama upon the recommendation of former Democrat Artur Davis. Kallon . . . previously practiced employment and labor law at a major Birmingham law firm primarily representing employers.
Shuler this month reported on a series of actions by court officials who have threatened to dismiss his wife's case because she failed to respond to court papers that she says she never received. The Shuler allegations describe judicial behavior by Kallon and Putnam that might seem astounding except to those who have scrutinized, as have I, the extraordinary scandal and cover-up commonplace in Alabama courts on high-profile matters.
Kreig gave key figures in the Mrs. Schnauzer case an opportunity to explain their actions. They were not, it seems, anxious to do that:
I received no response from Kallon and Putnam regarding my requests for comment regarding their alleged irregularities or misconduct in the Shuler case. The judicial personnel failed also to respond to my request that they provide their required financial disclosure statements. The federal system -- while ostensibly open -- hides and delays financial information for judicial personnel. This gives the judges enormous discretion on disclosing whether they have conflicts and, if so, who their patrons, confederates, and fellow investors might be.
Also, the Birmingham federal court clerk implemented the threat against Shuler failed to respond to a request for comment on Shuler's allegations he was manipulating mailings and court schedules with the connivance of the magistrate to dismiss the case without required discovery.
In sum, it appears to be business as usual by authorities in Alabama, with the connivance of Washington supervising authorities.
Kreig has two books in the works. The first, titled Presidential Puppetry, probably will be released this summer or fall and focuses on the moneyed interests who control Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and top candidates from both major parties. The second book, tentatively titled Courtroom Puppetry, is expected to focus on corruption that plagues the U.S. justice system. Together, the books are expected to break new ground and provide valuable background on the Siegelman prosecution and other legal/political scandals of the past 12 years or so.
|The February raid at VictoryLand|
The lawsuit also contends the Alabama Supreme Court wildly misinterpreted an 1899 case that was central to its order that forced Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to approve a search-warrant application from Attorney General Luther Strange.
Lawyers for the Macon County residents make a compelling case that Strange's agents violated the terms of a search warrant that they never should have been granted in the first place.
According to the federal complaint--prepared by attorneys Donald LaRoach, of Brockton, Massachusetts, and Christopher Ford, of Tuskegee--Strange's agents seized 1,600 electronic-bingo machines and more than $220,000 in cash during a February 19 raid. (The full lawsuit can be viewed at the end of this post.) In the process, the complaint states, agents went beyond the boundaries of the search warrant. From page 24 of the lawsuit:
During the raid, agents destroyed VictoryLand property and closed its pari-mutuel wagering operation and its restaurant, even though those businesses were not the subject of the search warrant and Defendants have never questioned the legality of those operations.
Pursuant to the terms of the search warrant and an order entered by the Macon County Circuit Judges, the Attorney General's agents were supposed to preserve the integrity of the machines for later testing and take care not to damage any of the equipment.
Instead, agents under the direction and control of the Attorney General cut the wires from a number of machines and damaged and destroyed others.
While representatives of the AG's office were acting like thugs during the VictoryLand raid, they were acting like con men in courtroom proceedings, according to the federal lawsuit. As an example, Ford's lawyers point to the AG's reliance on a case styled Benners v. State ex. rel. Heflin, 124 Ala. 97 (1899).
Attorneys for the AG's office cited Benners for the proposition that it authorized the Alabama Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus, forcing Judge Young to approve a search warrant in Macon County. But lawyers for Ford point out that Benners dealt with an arrest warrant, not a search warrant, and the heart of the Benners finding was overturned 10 years later. On top of that, the adoption of subsequent federal and state laws appear to make Benners a non-factor in the modern-day courtroom.
In summary, Benners apparently has not been good law in Alabama for more than 100 years--but the state's highest court used it to justify giving Luther Strange a search warrant. Here is how the Ford lawyers explain it:
The Benners case dealt with arrest warrants, not search warrants. And the Benners case forced a local justice of the peace to issue an arrest warrant, something the Supreme Court subsequently described as "a purely ministerial act" and only appropriate there because the justice of the peace "had no judicial discretion in the matter." Ten years later, the Alabama Supreme Court recognized that Benners does not apply when judicial discretion is at issue. The subsequent case limiting the Benners decision is not mentioned in the Attorney General's brief, apparently because he did not want them to read it. Moreover, the Benners case pre-dates the application of the Fourth Amendment to the states, the Alabama search warrant statutes, and the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure.
The actions of Luther Strange, his surrogates, and the Alabama Supreme Court have been highly questionable in the VictoryLand matter for quite some time. They become even more so when you read the complaint in Mayor Johnny Ford's federal lawsuit.
"Absolutely, I regret it," Scrushy said when asked in a recent radio interview about not taking the stand. Scrushy told San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins that he was faced with a number of valid reasons for not taking the stand. But after serving six years in federal prison for a "crime" that the public record shows he did not commit, Scrushy said he would do it much differently today.
As for Siegelman, he was released from prison during the appellate process, but with his appeals exhausted, he has resided in a federal prison at Oakdale, Louisiana, since last September 11. Speaking in his first interview about the Siegelman case, Scrushy used the word "sick" several times to describe the process that led to unlawful convictions.
"You have a governor locked up who didn't do anything wrong," Scrushy said. "I spent six years in prison for something I didn't do wrong. This is America, and we have a constitution . . . "
One constitutional principle is that criminal defendants have the right to remain silent--and they often are advised not to take the stand at trial. Criminal defense lawyers tend to follow a maxim that goes something like this: "Do not take the stand to defend a case that has not been proven."
Defense lawyers in the Siegelman/Scrushy case apparently felt certain the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Our review of the public record has shown that prosecutors did not come close to proving a case under the applicable law. But somehow, the jury saw it differently--with the help of flawed instructions from U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller--and found guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Scrushy still can't figure out how that happened:
There was no case. My lawyers looked at me and said this is a criminal case--beyond a reasonable doubt--and they've not put on one shred of evidence that you ever cut a check, that you gave [Siegelman] anything, that you ever had a meeting . . . There was no case against us, nothing. It was a joke.
In the closing arguments, when the prosecutors got up, they said . . . you've got to imagine these deals are cut in a back room with cigars and martinis . . . you have to imagine these things . . . I thought it was about facts. We showed that I didn’t cut a check, we didn't have a meeting, there was no bribe, no benefit. . . . We thought the jury got it, but apparently they didn’t.
Particularly exasperating was the testimony of former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey, who prosecutors coached and threatened, according to a number of sworn statements. Bailey stated that he saw Siegelman holding a $250,000 check after exiting a meeting with Scrushy. Evidence showed the check in question was written after the date of the alleged meeting, so Siegelman could not have been holding it. But the jury convicted anyway. Said Scrushy:
This is critical, and I don't understand how the jury missed this. Nick said he saw the check on such a date in June . . . and he knew it was from me because he saw my signature on it. . . . Well, I never gave the governor a check, and I didn't have a meeting with him, and we proved that. . . . The check was written on like July 19, a month and half later, from another company, and I never signed the check.
We brought the CEO from the other company down and put him on the stand, and said, "Is it possible that this check could have been written in June?" And he said . . . no, it's impossible. That whole story was totally made up.
How the jury could find . . . there was no check that I signed, and the date didn’t work, and the guy testified that it came from their company, it didn't come from me. I don't know how the jury connected those dots. They weren't paying attention. They slept through it, I guess.
I thought it was over with. When I heard that testimony, I said, "Well, that's it."
Scrushy and Siegelman wound up suffering because Bailey's testimony was not just a little off--it was deeply, fatally, almost comically flawed. After poking monstrous holes in testimony of the government's star witness, defense lawyers almost certainly saw little to be gained from Scrushy and Siegelman taking the stand. Taking the stand, under such circumstances, can be filled with peril. Says Scrushy:
When you get on the stand, because I had been through the difficulty in the HealthSouth trial, the lawyers thought, "They are going to muddy the water and bring all of that up again, and we really don't need to introduce all of that into this case. We should be able to go into closing and show there is no evidence against you. . . . " I didn’t mind getting on the stand, and I had prepared to go on the stand, and today, I wish I had of.
Republican Bob Riley followed Siegelman into the governor's office, and Scrushy did not mention Riley by name during the Collins interview. But Scrushy clearly is disturbed that Riley and his associates have largely escaped scrutiny for numerous questionable actions before and after the Siegelman prosecution. He also is disturbed by the corrupting influence that national Republican figures, such as Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff, have had on Alabama:
As I look back on it, it’s so much deeper [than people realize]. If anybody brought to the surface all of the activities of the governor that came in [after Siegelman] . . . it’s a very sick story for the state of Alabama and for this country. The way money flowed, the people who pocketed millions, and how they did it . . . and they wouldn’t have done it if Siegelman had been in there. . . . It is so deep; it goes all the way up to Washington, not just Alabama. . . .
I don’t know all of the details . . . I'm trying to piece it together . . . but it looks to me that there was so much opportunity through the Republicans and their relationship with [Abramoff], and Siegelman as governor would have destroyed their plans.
You've got to take a look at the people who were elected [in place of Siegelman] and follow the money to all of those folks. I lie awake at night and think, "How did they get away with it? Why has no one uncovered all of that filth?"
Scrushy has served his time, but he still has a pending appeal before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit, seeking documents that he says will prove judicial, prosecutorial, and juror misconduct in the case:
I’ve got to move on with my life; I've got nine children, and a beautiful wife and a lot of things I want to accomplish in my life. But this is just sitting there, and it needs to be dealt with. A lot of people have mud on them, and they are running around free as birds, and they've done very bad things. I believe we should shine light on this, and these people should come clean. . . .
I think it’s good for people in this country to understand that we have problems with our judicial system, we have problems with our politicians. The average guy walking the street doesn’t realize the corruption [is out there]. I don't think there is anything wrong with pointing it out whenever we have that opportunity.
Previously in the series:
Richard Scrushy: Convictions In The Siegelman Case Are Grounded In A Former Aide's Flawed Testimony (April 8, 2013)
Feds Promised To Release Scrushy From Prosecution If He Provided False Testimony Against Siegelman (April 9, 2013)
Siegelman Case Involved No "Meeting Of The Minds," But Scrushy Still Spent Six Years In Federal Prison (April 18, 2013)
Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, filed the lawsuit April 5 on behalf of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other residents of Macon County who claim the VictoryLand raids have caused "economic devastation" in their area.
Governor Robert Bentley, codefendant in the case, already has filed an answer to the complaint, according to a report at oanow.com, the Web site of the Opelika-Auburn News. Strange's answer is due this week, but the AG already has engaged in the not-so-subtle art of intimidation. From the oanow.com report:
Donald LaRoche, who is representing Ford and others named as plaintiffs in the case, said that as of [last] Friday, attorneys representing Bentley were the only ones he was aware of who had responded to summonses. LaRoche said defendants typically have at least 21 days to respond after receiving a summons. When contacted by the Opelika-Auburn News, a spokesperson with Strange’s office said the attorney general had until [this] week to respond to the suit.
Is Strange looking forward to filing a response in the case? It doesn't sound like it:
According to court documents, LaRoche filed a motion to cease attempts to intimidate and delay on April 17 after receiving a letter from Solicitor General John C. Neiman Jr. on behalf of Strange threatening sanctions against him and Ford if the suit was not dropped within seven days of receiving the letter.
“He (Strange) is named throughout the lawsuit and we are looking forward to his being summoned into court and under oath having to testify,” Ford said.
Let's consider this scenario: Luther Strange having to testify under oath about what is driving his effort to close the VictoryLand casino, even though no court of law has declared its bingo machines to be illegal; the attorney general possibly being forced to turn over documents--e-mails, internal memos, phone records--related to the VictoryLand raids.
Would that prove to be an interesting turn of events? Is it any wonder Luther Strange is resorting to intimidation tactics?
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|Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk|
That's where a former associate named Alexandra Marchuk has filed a sexual-harassment suit against the firm and partner Juan Monteverde. Among many salacious details in the complaint is Marchuk's claim that Monteverde forcibly had sex with her after an office holiday party.
A Southern angle is present in this story--Marchuk is a graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School--and the case has drawn widespread coverage in the legal press, with reports from The New York Times, Thomson Reuters, and ABA Journal.
Perhaps most interesting is the role of the Web press. A plucky Web site called Above the Law (ATL) broke the story with its "Lawsuit of the Day" report on March 13. The site has stayed on top of the story ever since, including a report about a Faruqi & Faruqi counterclaim--plus a report yesterday about Marchuk's amended complaint, in which she increases her demand for damages from $7 million to $13 million. Marchuk now performs legal work on the foreclosure docket for an insurance firm in Omaha, Nebraska.
David Lat, a Yale Law School graduate, launched Above the Law after finding an audience with his first legal blog, Underneath Their Robes, which focused on coverage of federal judges that you aren't likely to find in a daily newspaper. ATL has a gossipy, snarky, insider tone that readers apparently find irresistible. According to one report, ATL racks up about 900,000 unique visitors a month, a figure that probably makes it the most widely read legal blog on the Web.
For Lat and his ATL colleagues, the Alexandra Marchuk lawsuit is the juicy story that keeps on giving. Consider this from Lat's initial report, including language directly from item No. 12 in Marchuk's complaint:
In 2010, Marchuk worked as a summer associate at Faruqi & Faruqi (“F&F”). When they worked together, “Mr. Monteverde was very friendly and flirtatious with Ms. Marchuk and from time to time made inappropriate, sexually charged comments in Ms. Marchuk’s presence.” How inappropriate?
12. Mr. Monteverde drank heavily at [a post-happy-hour] dinner and, seeing that Ms. Marchuk had drunk only a half glass of wine, urged her to drink more, which she did not do. Mr. Monteverde further commented that Ms. Marchuk was an “expensive date” and that she was “lucky” that he was married because he otherwise would expect a “blow job” for the expensive meal that he had purchased for her.
According to Marchuk’s allegations, Juan Monteverde started sexually harassing her pretty much after she walked through the door at the Faruqi firm. When she joined the firm on September 6, 2011, “she was surprised to learn from Mr. Monteverde that he had arranged for her to work exclusively for him.” He asked her to attend a hearing in Delaware on September 8. After the hearing, they went out for drinks:
18. After several more drinks at Lex Bar, Mr. Monteverde aggressively grabbed and kissed Ms. Marchuk and attempted to fondle her breasts. Ms. Marchuk physically rebuffed Mr. Monteverde’s advances. Mr. Monteverde then asked Ms. Marchuk to go back to F&F’s offices with him to have sex. Ms. Marchuk rejected the offer and went home. She had no romantic interest in Mr. Monteverde and was greatly troubled that her sole supervising attorney was making wildly inappropriate sexual advances to her on only her third day of full time employment at F&F.
The most disturbing allegations involve the F&F holiday party on December 15, 2011. At that event, Marchuk claims, Monteverde said he probably could not recommend her for a year-end bonus--a disturbing prospect for a new law-school grad with sizable student loans to pay off. Lat reports what allegedly happened next, borrowing from items 64 and 65 in the complaint:
Marchuk then claims that, in her vulnerable state, Monteverde took advantage of her in a most terrible way:
64. By this time, most or all of the other F&F attorneys had left the bar and Mr. Monteverde started suggesting that Ms. Marchuk accompany him to F&F’s office, which was only a short walk away. Under the influence of alcohol, and desperate to repair what Mr. Monteverde said was her tattered standing at F&F, Ms. Marchuk acceded to Mr. Monteverde’s pleas and walked back to F&F’s offices with him.
65. After entering his office, Mr. Monteverde pushed Ms. Marchuk to the floor and quickly, forcefully, and painfully had sex with her. Suffering discomfort and not wanting to continue having sex with him, Ms. Marchuk implored Mr. Monteverde to stop, but he disregarded her pleas and continued having sex with her. After he finished, Ms. Marchuk had left a large bloodstain on Mr. Monteverde’s carpet. Seeing that Ms. Marchuk was emotionally and physically traumatized by his aggressive conduct, Mr. Monteverde immediately directed her not to tell anyone what he had done. He then quickly escorted Ms. Marchuk from F&F’s office and down to the street, obviously concerned that they might be discovered by other F&F employees. Mr. Monteverde advised Ms. Marchuk to forget what had just happened. Ms. Marchuk walked to the nearest train station and took the subway home alone.
The complaint does not use the term "rape," but that appears to be what Marchuk is describing.
Where is this story headed? That's hard to say, but Lat makes it clear in his piece yesterday that he hopes it's headed for open court:
Who’s telling the truth here? Only time — and discovery — will tell. Based on developments to date, we’re hopeful that the parties, instead of quietly settling the matter, will both wind up on the carpet.
|Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford|
Attorney Donald LaRoche, of Brockton, Massachusetts, also states that Strange's office twice refused to accept service of the summons, complaint, and other documents. Service was completed, LaRoche states, only after it became clear that the process server was prepared to contact federal-court officials about the refusal.
LaRoche sued Strange and Governor Robert Bentley on behalf of Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and five other residents of Macon County, which is home to VictoryLand. The suit alleges that Strange and Bentley caused "economic devastation" by closing the casino, even though Macon County residents had voted to allow electronic-bingo at the facility.
Bentley and Strange both timely filed responses to the lawsuit on April 30. But Strange's office, before filing its response, fired off a letter to LaRoche. Dated April 11, the letter is signed by Alabama Solicitor General John C. Nieman Jr. and threatens to seek sanctions if LaRoche and his clients do not voluntarily dismiss their case within seven days. (The letter can be viewed at the end of this post.) In the letter, Nieman states:
Dear Mr. LaRoche:
Attorney General Strange was served with a summons and complaint in the above referenced case on April 9. Your signature on the complaint, and your clients' filing of it, violates Rule 11(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As you are well aware, your claims and legal contentions are not warranted by existing law or a nonfrivolous argument for extending, modifying, or reversing existing law. see Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491, 501-08 (1992). Your clients appear to be presenting their complaint for harassment purposes. Please voluntarily dismiss your complaint within 7 days of this letter. If you do not do so, the Attorney General intends to seek sanctions against you and your clients, including but not limited to attorney's fees and costs associated with preparing a response and a motion for sanctions.
John C. Nieman Jr.
LaRoche responded by filing a Motion for Order to Cease Attempts to Intimidate and Delay, dated April 17, which correctly notes that Nieman acted outside Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). (LaRoche's memorandum in support of the motion can be viewed at the end of this post.)
Rule 11 states that any effort to seek sanctions must be in the form of a motion to the court, not a letter to opposing counsel. From the LaRoche supporting memorandum:
The Attorney General’s letter to plaintiff’s counsel does not fall within the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. F.R.C.P., Rule 11 (c)(2) states that “a motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other motion and must describe the conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b).” The Attorney General’s threatening letter does not comport with Rule 11(c)’s motion requirement because it does not “describe the specific conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b)” nor is it in a motion form. This letter is just a feeble attempt to delay the process and silence the plaintiffs from pursuing their rights by threatening to seek sanctions.
That's not the only way Strange's office seeks to trample civil procedure. Writes LaRoche:
It should also be noted that in the letter from Solicitor General Neiman, a time period is specified for the plaintiffs to withdraw their complaint. . . . This randomly asserted deadline is not delineated anywhere in Rule 11 and further demonstrates that the purpose of this letter is to intimidate and chill the plaintiffs and not adhere to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
William Boyd, process server for the plaintiffs, apparently was able to serve Gov. Bentley without incident. But his efforts to serve Luther Strange met an almost comical wall of resistance. A receptionist first told Boyd that service was improper because it was not done by mail. Then things really got interesting. From the LaRoche memorandum:
After discussion with counsel for the plaintiffs on the morning of April 9, 2013, Mr. Boyd returned to the Attorney General’s Office to make another attempt at service. Again the front office receptionist refused to accept service. At this point, Mr. Boyd contacted plaintiffs’ counsel to explain the basis for the refusal. Counsel instructed Mr. Boyd to obtain the name of the person refusing to accept service and return to the federal court’s clerk’s office to notify the court that the Attorney General refused service in this matter. Hearing this, the receptionist placed a phone call and subsequently accepted a copy of the complaint, exhibits, and summons. Mr. Boyd then proceeded to the Governor’s Office, and upon arrival, he was able to effectuate service without any delay.
The bottom line? Bentley seemed to have no problem accepting service and responding to the complaint. Strange tried his darnedest to avoid doing either. LaRoche nicely summarizes what appears to be going on:
It is well established in this country that the right to petition is one of the most precious of the liberties safeguarded by the Bill of Rights and the right is implied by the very idea of a republican form of government. BE&K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516 (2002), Eastern Railroad Presidents Conference Et Al. v. Noerr Motor Freight, Inc, Et al, 365 U.S. 127 (1961). . . .
The plaintiffs in this matter have exercised their right to petition the court because their voting rights have been violated by the actions of the defendants. California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972) (“’the right of access to the courts is an aspect of the First Amendment right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”)
Attorney General Strange’s letter, dated April 11, 2013, calling for the plaintiffs to dismiss their complaint or suffer the consequences of sanctions is designed to silence the plaintiffs’ meritorious lawsuit. . . . The intent of this letter is to have a chilling effect on the plaintiffs’ efforts to prove their case of voting rights violations. The effect of this letter is more evidence of the extent to which this defendant will go to violate the rights of the people of Macon County. The plaintiffs have properly filed and served the defendants in this case and are proceeding under the laws of this country governing federal lawsuits. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit should not be construed to be anything less than seeking a judicial determination for the concerns that they have raised and a rightful remedy. Rather than responding in the manner provided by the rules, with an answer and/or motion, the Attorney General chooses to send a threatening letter after initially delaying service.
|Judge Sibley Reynolds in his natural|
habitat: the Alabama hunting club
We had our share of bugs where I grew up in the Missouri Ozarks--plenty of June bugs, fireflies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, moths, and roaches of modest size. But when I moved to Alabama, I quickly realized the state is populated with bizarre looking bugs I had never seen before--and some of them are so big they look like they could be used as military hardware. I've come to believe that you've probably never seen a real roach until you've lived in Alabama. We have roaches here that I swear could play left tackle for Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
But it wasn't until I had an experience in an Alabama courtroom, around 2000, that I became acquainted with the most dangerous insects in our otherwise lovely state. Judging from the mail I receive from readers, I'm not the only one to come in contact with "roaches wearing robes."
This form of insect, some call them "judges," tend to be particularly prevalent in central Alabama, although I feel certain they can be found in all corners of the state. Based on my communications with readers from coast to coast--from San Jose, California, to Weehawken, New Jersey; from St. Charles, Missouri, to St. Petersburg, Florida--"judicial roaches" can be found all over the country.
In many jurisdictions, judicial roaches roam freely because watchdog organizations are notoriously weak--and they tend to be manned by fellow lawyers, even former judges, who would rather provide cover for their corrupt brethren than flush them into the open. You probably are more likely to be struck by lightning than to see a corrupt judge held accountable. When judicial watchdogs do act, it's often with political, racial, or gender-based motives in mind.
What form do judicial roaches tend to take? Here in central Alabama, we are talking about crooked circuit judges like Sibley Reynolds in Chilton County; D. Al Crowson, G. Dan Reeves, H.L. "Sonny" Conwill, and Hub Harrington in Shelby County; and former domestic-relations judges R.A. "Sonny" Ferguson and John C. Calhoun in Jefferson County. We have learned that a healthy dose of Alabama's judicial corruption, especially in divorce courts, originates with hunting clubs, where judges and lawyers (mostly white and mostly male) gather to fix cases.
I've heard from dozens of Alabamians who have been on the receiving end of unlawful and abusive treatment from judicial roaches. In many cases, citizens filed complaints with the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) only to receive form letters telling them that their cases would not even be investigated.
|Judge Sibley Reynolds (center) rocks|
out at an Alabama hunting club.
I'm sure it would be news to many central Alabamians that due process, as spelled out in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even applies here. It is news to me, after 12-plus years of appearing before various judicial roaches (both state and federal) in Shelby and Jefferson counties.
It certainly would be news to many citizens who have appeared before Sibley Reynolds in Chilton County. After all, he's the guy who unlawfully sentenced Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt to five months in jail for failure to pay a property-related debt from dissolution of her marriage--even though Alabama law clearly states that a party cannot be subject to contempt or jail time under such circumstances.
The Wyatt case and the divorce case of Sherry Carroll Rollins, before Judge Al Crowson in Shelby County, probably rank as the two most notorious cases of injustice we've covered here at Legal Schnauzer--at least in the civil arena.
So why do Reynolds and Crowson seem to operate with impunity, while Dorothea Batiste lands in the JIC cross hairs? I've received e-mails from a number of readers indicating Batiste is a pretty sorry judge, so perhaps she deserves scrutiny. But can she really be worse than Reynolds, Crowson, and their brethren? Is she on suspension mainly because she is black and female? Would she be protected if she took part in Alabama's hunting-club culture? I suspect the answer to both questions is yes.
What about the laughable language in the JIC complaint against Batiste--the words that suggest due process is taken seriously in central Alabama? The full complaint can be viewed at the end of this post, but here is the gist of it, from page 1:
This Complaint is based upon Judge Batiste's violation of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics through her repeated failure in 2011 and 2012 to comply with both Alabama and federal law regarding her exercise of contempt power, and more specifically, her failure to comply with Rule 70A, Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, Alabama case law, and the Due Process Clauses of the Alabama Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in a series of domestic relations cases in Jefferson County Circuit Court in which Judge Batiste entered unauthorized, unwarranted, and unlawful orders for the arrest and jailing or incarceration of litigants or witnesses.
Keep in mind that this is the same "watchdog group" that apparently has no problem with Sibley Reynolds throwing Bonnie Wyatt into the slammer for five months, contrary to black-letter Alabama law. It also is the same group that apparently has no problem with the court-ordered theft of Bonnie Wyatt's house; she has been forced to put her house up for sale, based on an alleged agreement that was reached while she was looking at a possible return to jail. Any agreement reached under such duress is legally void, but Ms. Wyatt's house currently is listed for sale with a RealtySouth agent named Amber Darnell. (SeeClaybrook v. Claybrook, Ala. Civ. App., 2010.)
Why is the JIC not concerned about that? Here is more from its complaint against Batiste, from pages 3 and 4:
Judge Batiste further violated state law in most of the subject cases by expressly providing in these writs of attachment that the contemnors could not be released on bond. With the exception of a limited group of persons arrested and charged with capital offenses, Section 16 of the Alabama Constitution guarantees the right to persons who are arrested to be released upon posting of bail set at a reasonable amount. See also Sullivan v. State, 939 So. 2d 58 at 64, n.4 (Ala. Civ. App., 2006): "A constructive-contempt proceeding is bondable."
Multiple sources have told me that Bonnie Wyatt never received the option of bond for the unlawful incarceration in her case. My review of the public record has revealed no signs that Judge Reynolds addressed the issue of bond.
|Judge Sibley Reynolds checks out the|
fret work at an Alabama hunting club.
Freedom from bodily restraint has always been at the core of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause from arbitrary governmental action. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 . . . (1982). "It is clear that commitment for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection."
Where is the JIC's concern about "freedom from bodily restraint" in the Bonnie Wyatt case? Where is the concern about Judge Sibley Reynolds deprivation of Bonnie Wyatt's due process protection?
As photos interspersed throughout this post show, Judge Reynolds is deeply engaged in Alabama's hunting-club culture. Our sources say a number of the individuals with Reynolds in the hunting-club photos are lawyers who practice before the judge. (The photos come from a Web site for a hunting club called The Ridge Expedition. You can check out more photos here and here. Our understanding is that Alabama lawyer Cleveland Poole owns the property.)
Do those lawyers, and their clients, receive preferential treatment in court? Does Sibley Reynolds make any effort to avoid "the appearance of impropriety," as required by law?
If Dorothea Batiste is an abusive judge, we welcome scrutiny for her. But there is no doubt that Sibley Reynolds and Al Crowson are abusive judges--along with any number of their white, male (and mostly Republican) brethren in central Alabama. Where is the scrutiny for them?
Liberty Duke, of Clanton, is a lobbyist for Maryland-based MedImmune, which manufactures a drug called palivizumab (brand name Synagis). State Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) introduced a bill in the 2013 legislative session that would boost use of Synagis in an effort to reduce the state's infant-mortality rate.
The proposed legislation, styled Senate Bill 3 (SB 3), is controversial because a number of medical professionals in the state have said it actually could harm infants. The Anniston Star added another layer of controversy when it reported in January that Dial had received a $500 donation from MedImmune in October 2010.
As for Liberty Duke, the Alabama Ethics Commission lists her as a registered lobbyist for MedImmune--and sources tell Legal Schnauzer that she has developed a close working relationship with Sen. Dial.
We reported in January that Duke and Rob Riley, a Homewood lawyer and son of former GOP Governor Bob Riley, had an extramarital affair that led to a number of personal and political complications. From our earlier report:
The reports about an extramarital affair, and the ugly repercussions from it, raise new questions about the ethics of a political family that has claimed to be opposed to abortion rights, gambling, and other cultural issues on moral grounds.
It also raises new questions about a political son who is seen as a possible future governor, even though he already has a checkered ethical past. Rob Riley's slippery grasp on matters of right and wrong dates at least to 1996. That's when he engaged in campaign-finance irregularities, on his father's behalf, and eventually received a $10,000 fine from the Federal Elections Commission.
The latest revelations could prove to be far more damaging than the FEC case to any future political hopes Rob Riley might have. In a pair of telephone interviews with Legal Schnauzer, Riley admitted knowing Liberty Duke, but denied having an affair with her. During our conversations, Riley angrily hung up on me three times.
Liberty Duke did not respond to a voice message, seeking comment.
We will be disclosing details about the Rob Riley/Liberty Duke relationship in a series of upcoming posts.
According to records from the Alabama Secretary of State’s office, MedImmune donated $500 to Dial in October 2010. Dial has received several contributions from the pharmaceutical industry over the years, including $1,000 from the Alabama Pharmacy Association in 2011 and $500 from Takeda Pharmaceutical last year.
Dial said he did not remember receiving any money from MedImmune but that the bill is targeted at the use of Synagis.
“I’ve been in this way too long so I don’t let money impact me . . . this is just something I feel passionately about,” Dial said of his efforts to help premature infants.
Synagis is used to treat respiratory synctytial virus (RSV), a common lung ailment among infants. The drug is designed to reduce severe lung infections in high-risk babies.
Dial's bill would require the Alabama Medicaid Agency to ensure medications given to premature infants are dosed according to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, which recommend doses higher than those Medicaid currently uses. But some physicians say that approach would do more harm than good. From The Anniston Star:
Grant Allen, president of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said . . . that his organization opposed the FDA guidelines requirement in Dial’s bill. Allen wrote that the Alabama Medicaid Agency currently follows guidelines for use of the drug in infants listed in the AAP Redbook, which has more up-to-date medical recommendations than the FDA. The AAP Redbook is produced by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The guidelines … more than adequately protect the population with RSV while balancing the high cost of expanded use of this drug to the state Medicaid program,” Allen wrote. “These guidelines are based on the recommendations of dozens of our country’s top pediatric infectious disease experts who have carefully deliberated on how best to use it.”
Huntsville pediatrician Pippa Abston says SB 3 is a rehash of an almost identical bill that died in the 2012 legislature. She wrote a blog post called "Stop the Forced Drugging of Babies: Say No to SB 3." Abston calls Dial's handiwork a "drug company bill" and says, in fact, it has become known in Montgomery as "the MedImmune bill." From the Abston blog post:
If used according to the FDA guidelines applied to ALL infants born at less than 37 weeks gestation, this bill would have cost our state about $9 million extra a year with no clear additional benefit. The FDA specifies it is to be used for prevention in high risk groups of pediatric patients (but gives no age limit or definition of high risk), for the duration of RSV season, usually 5 months in the Northern hemisphere. Pediatricians and insurers, including Alabama Medicaid, use published research and guidelines to decide when to prescribe palivizumab and the number of doses to give for each group (5 for some, 3 for others), and [the bill] would have prevented us from practicing according to good evidence.
Here is what the bill really says, in effect: “Medicaid must ensure that palivizumab is given to babies who shouldn’t get it at all, according to the best research, and that babies who should only get 3 doses are given 5 instead.” Intentionally giving unneeded medication or more doses than are needed to babies is at best fraud and at worst malpractice.
Is SB 3 really about reducing infant mortality in Alabama? Or is it designed to help Liberty Duke, Gerald Dial, and their allies cash in?
Infant mortality in Alabama is certainly a travesty. Death rates of over 20 per 1,000 births in some counties put us in third world country territory. But these sad numbers have nothing to do with palivizumab, which has never been proven to decrease the death rate anyway. The deaths are primarily related to prematurity and lack of prenatal care. Universal insurance, expansion of our rural labor and delivery capacity, and rural prenatal clinics in the state are critically needed. Diverting millions of dollars and legislative effort on the wrong solution will not help matters.
|Luther Strange and|
Jessica Medeiros Garrison
Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who managed Strange's 2010 campaign, started MDM 27 Holdings Inc. in November 2006. Campaign-finance records from the Alabama Secretary of State show that Strange spent $207,015.26 with MDM 27 Holdings, from June 10, 2010, to November 30, 2011.
During roughly the same time period, the Strange campaign paid $33,245.07 directly to Garrison.
Is anything improper, or unlawful, about the payments to Jessica Garrison and her company? Why was the much larger amount paid to a holding company and not to Garrison directly? We still are examining those questions, but they seem particularly relevant in light of recent events.
The attorney general's office, under Strange's direction, indicted former state senator Lowell Barron on April 19 for allegedly violating the Alabama Fair Campaign Practices Act and the state ethics law. Barron is accused of illegally transferring $58,000, plus title to a 2007 Toyota Camry, to former campaign staffer Rhonda Jill Johnson.
Did Luther Strange make similar payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison, his former campaign aide? Did Strange try to disguise the payments by making them to Garrison's holding company? (See first document at the end of this post.)
In general, the charges against Barron allege that he unlawfully put campaign funds to personal use. Is there anything personal about the campaign funds that Luther Strange transferred to Jessica Garrison?
We don't have an answer yet to that question, but we do see irony in the indictment Strange's office brought against Barron. According to press reports, the charges stem in part from Barron listing his payments to Johnson as "administrative" expenses. From a report at al.com:
The 2011 annual report says the campaign had an ending balance of just over $500,000 and included in the expenditures is a listing for Jill Johnson, who received $8,000 with a notation “administrative” work performed, according to the filing.
The 2012 annual report, which covers 2011 has a $50,000 expenditure listed for Johnson and the same “administrative” note in explanation. The indictment contends the check's memo line reads "severance/bonus."
Why is that ironic? Records show that Strange made 15 "administrative" expenditures to MDM 27 Holdings Inc. in roughly the same time period. And MDM 27 Holdings is owned by Strange's former campaign aide. (See second document at the end of this post.)
All but one of the administrative payments to Jessica Garrison's company was in the $10,000 to $30,000 range. The Strange campaign made three payments for "consulting" services, and those were in the $9,000 to $12,000 range.
Records show that MDM 27 Holdings has a reporting address of 1705 Dauphine Dr., Tuscaloosa, AL. Jessica Garrison is listed as company president, with an address of 119 Main St., Mountain Brook, AL.
Garrison currently serves as director of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which is an affiliate of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Garrison also serves in an "as counsel" capacity with the Birmingham law firm Balch & Bingham.
Strange has a history of trying to hide campaign-related financial transactions--and some of those activities have ties to RSLC, an organization that now employs Jessica Garrison. From one of our earlier posts on the subject:
We know that Strange takes hypocrisy on gambling issues to monumental dimensions. After all, this is the guy who has tried to shut down non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County and Center Stage Alabama in Houston County, while taking a $100,000 campaign contribution from the Poarch Creek casinos. This also is the guy who used the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) to help obscure the donation via a PAC-to-PAC transfer.
Did Luther Strange try to obscure his payments to Jessica Garrison, violating campaign-finance laws? In light of the Lowell Barron indictment, it seems reasonable for Alabamians to be asking that question.
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|Alyona Minkovski at HuffPost Live|
"I don’t understand Eric Holder not cleaning this mess up, if he’s any kind of man at all," Scrushy told Alyona Minkovski on HuffPost Live. "All you have to do is read the e-mails between the prosecutors. If the president of the United States would look at those e-mails, he would pardon the governor and let him out immediately. I can’t believe he would let it go another day, with the corruption that is in this case."
It was Scrushy's second interview since being released last summer from an almost six-year term in federal prison. His first was with San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins in April. I participated in the Collins interview, and helped arrange it, so it was encouraging to see that Scrushy is continuing to speak out about injustice in the Siegelman prosecution--this time before the Huffington Post audience.
Scrushy focused last night on a petition that he has pending before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Scrushy's lawyers are seeking discovery on documents that they say will prove widespread misconduct in the case. Much of it, Scrushy says, focuses on Bush-era U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and members of her staff:
We have internal documents, e-mails between prosecutors, talking about having contact with jurors. We have Leura Canary e-mails, with her directing the case after she had recused herself. That is before the Eleventh Circuit right now. . . . We are asking for the rest of discovery to prove the additional corruption. . . . Why would Eric Holder not step in immediately and fire those people who were involved in this? Making contact with a jury . . . come on, help me, please! Tell me why they would allow any of these people to continue to work, and why has this case not been thrown out?
Craig Unger, author of the 2012 book Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power, and Huffington Post justice reporter Ryan Reilly participated in the discussion. Unger did not mince words about the origins of the Siegelman prosecution:
Absolutely, it was political. Look how Rove came to power . . . the judiciary always has been part of it. When you control the courts, you get huge donations from corporations. He took over Texas courts, and he did the same thing in Alabama.
Unger also pointed at that the allegations against Siegelman and Scrushy never fit the definition of a crime under any statute:
What Siegelman was accused of isn’t really a crime. There are thousands of instances where people give campaign contributions and end up in political appointments. Pres George W. Bush appointed more than 140 contributors to be ambassadors and so forth.
Scrushy noted that he hardly knew Siegelman until they were locked up together, post conviction, for two weeks at a federal prison in Atlanta:
As a businessman in Alabama, I would run into Don Siegelman. But I didn’t hang out with him; he wasn’t my friend. We were locked up in Atlanta . . . in chains; they threw us in a cell together . . . like it was a dungeon. We spent two weeks together there. We spent a lot of time in prayer. We were on our knees a lot. We worked out together, we talked about our children, our wives, our lives. You learn about people.
Corruption in our justice system needs to be addressed, Scrushy says, and it needs to start with his pending appeal before the Eleventh Circuit:
I’ve done my time, what do I have to gain, other than the world knowing [I was] innocent? But let’s get the governor out. I’m back with my family, back with my children . . . but I’m not the only person who has done time that was innocent. While I was in prison, I met a lot of people who are innocent, especially in the white-collar area. I met a lot of young men brought in on some of the most ridiculous . . . deals you’ve ever heard.
The way our prosecution system works is through a "snitch process." I was asked to snitch on the governor, and they were going to let me out. But I would have had to lie and I said, "No, I’m not going to get up there and say a man did something he didn’t do." It’s a sad situation for our country.
|Melissa George Bowman|
Melissa C. George, who worked in Riley's proclamations office, filed the complaint against communications director David Azbell, according to a report yesterday from Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter (APR). Ms. George since has married, and now is Melissa George Bowman.
The story presents a number of parallels to my own experience of being unlawfully terminated from my job as an editor at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) in the midst of the Riley era.
The parallels emerge primarily from this fact that Bill Britt uncovered: Under a settlement agreement, Bowman was forced to leave her job, while Azbell quietly resigned. Azbell, however, has re-emerged as a communications consultant for Alabama Speaker Mike Hubbard, bringing down a state salary of $8,000 per month. Azbell also is a partner in the Birmingham political-consulting firm Swatek Azbell Howe & Ross.
It looks like the victimizer came out better than the victim in this deal. Unfortunately, I've learned a thing or two about such office cheat jobs.
Melissa George Bowman now serves as public relations manager for the Alabama Hospital Association (AHA). This is from a 2012 AHA press release:
Prior to joining the Alabama Hospital Association, Melissa George Bowman was marketing director for Eastdale Mall. She was public relations director for the American Red Cross of Central Alabama and worked in the Alabama governor’s press office under two governors. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Alabama.
How this for irony? The words in bold indicate Bowman started her job in the governor's press office under Don Siegelman--and she was sexually harassed out of her job under Bob Riley.
Britt writes that rumors about Azbell and a sexual-harassment complaint have been floating around Montgomery for roughly a decade. The story now has moved beyond the rumor stage, with confirmation that a settlement was reached in 2003. Reports Britt:
The Alabama Political Reporter has obtained a copy of the Settlement Agreement in which the Riley administration offered a $53,000 pay-off to staffer Melissa C. George, an employee in Riley's proclamations office, to drop the threat of civil lawsuit, quit her state job and quietly go away. The Settlement Agreement, dated Dec. 17, 2003, was signed by Riley, Azbell and Riley's chief of staff, Toby Roth. It described Azbell as having "harassed" and "discriminated" against George. The document also states the neither Riley nor Roth were aware of Azbell's boorish behavior.
According to the settlement agreement, the State of Alabama paid $53,000 to George--with the stipulation that she leave her state job, but as part of the agreement Toby Roth was to write her a letter of recommendation on his official letterhead.
Based on my knowledge of employment law--and I have more experience with the subject than I ever wanted to have--it sounds like Melissa George Bowman settled for a low-ball figure, probably because she was under heavy pressure from seasoned politicians. That she was forced to leave her job says a lot about the way the Riley administration treated women in the workplace. In essence, Melissa Bowman was victimized twice--once by David Azbell and once by Bob Riley and Toby Roth.
No one involved with the case seems anxious to discuss it. Writes Britt:
Melissa George was contacted for this report but would only say she was not suppose to talk about it. However, there can be no valid confidentiality agreement when state dollars are used in such matters.
Telephone messages seeking comment were left for Azbell. He did not return the calls. George apparently provided the Riley administration with a lengthy written complaint documenting Azbell's alleged harassment. No records beyond the Settlement Agreement were found by the state archives. Roth refused to answer questions presented by the Alabama Political Reporter concerning the case. “It was the policy of the Riley administration to not comment on past employees,” he said.
Note the disingenuous tone of Roth's comment. Melissa George Bowman was not an employee of the Riley administration; she was an employee of the State of Alabama, and her settlement was paid with taxpayer dollars. Roth, Riley, and Azbell have obligations to answer questions about this matter. Riley himself should ensure that any related documents--internal memos, e-mails, etc.--are released to the public.
Feel free to hold your breath and turn blue while waiting for Bob Riley to reply to that question. Meanwhile, keep in mind that these are the Republicans who constantly assure us that they will be careful with our tax dollars.
The most vexing question is this: Why was Melissa George Bowman, having been harassed and victimized in the workplace, forced to leave her job? We don't know how long Bowman had worked for the state at the time of the settlement agreement. But even if she had just started, she would now have 10 years under her belt--and be vested in the state retirement system--if she had kept her job and chosen to stay with the state. Bowman likely gave up more than she received by agreeing to a deal with the Riley crowd. On the other hand, she probably is relieved to be away from that crowd.
I can identify with Bowman's plight, and I think I know why she was forced to leave her job. Regular readers know that I was cheated out of my job at UAB in May 2008--and I have tape-recorded evidence that proves I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the prosecution of Don Siegelman, Bob Riley's chief political rival.
Not only that, I was reporting truthfully on court-related corruption in Shelby County involving Pelham lawyer William E. Swatek. If that name sounds familiar, it's because his son, Dax Swatek, is a partner with David Azbell in the consulting firm referenced above. The Swateks are certified members of the Riley mafia, and my reporting was stepping on some delicate toes.
What probably sealed my fate at UAB was a post on March 13, 2008, about Rob Riley (Bob's lawyer son) and his apparent conflict of interest in connection with a federal lawsuit that grew out of the accounting scandal at Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corporation.
I did not break the story--that honor went to Sam Stein, of Huffington Post--but my reporting on it almost certainly was not welcome news to the Riley crowd. Here is the gist of that 2008 post:
We know that current Governor Bob Riley saw his path to re-election in 2006 become much more clear with Siegelman out of the way.
Now, thanks to the reporting of Sam Stein at The Huffington Post, we know the Riley family benefited in other ways. Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, son of the Republican governor, made a nice chunk of change from a civil matter that ran parallel to the Siegelman criminal case.
On January 13, 2005, Rob Riley suddenly was added as local counsel on a massive lawsuit against HealthSouth and its former CEO, Richard Scrushy. Riley represented the New Mexico State Investment Council, a relatively new player at the time in the HealthSouth litigation.
At the same time the civil case was unfolding, Scrushy was co-defendant in the Siegelman criminal case. And that, Stein reports, is how Rob Riley stood to gain financially.
Less than two months after those words were written, I was out of a job at a state institution. And Rob Riley, indeed, gained financially. As co-liaison counsel--with Doug Jones, of Birmingham's Haskell Slaughter firm--Riley took home a nice chunk of some $50 million in attorney fees awarded in the HealthSouth case.
Let's summarize: In spring 2008, I was writing in a supportive way about Bob Riley's chief political rival; I was reporting inconvenient truths about Riley-family crony Bill Swatek; and I probably was seen as a threat to Rob Riley's revenue stream.
Is it any wonder that UAB went to extraordinarily underhanded lengths to cheat me out of my job? Is it any wonder that I'm convinced someone connected to the Riley family made that happen?
That brings us back to Melissa George Bowman. Anyone with a sense of balance and fairness would have seen her as a victim, and they would have insisted that she not be penalized for reporting harassment. But the Riley crowd almost certainly includes any number of sociopaths--and such individuals lack any sense of balance or fairness.
Bowman's willingness to speak up about David Azbell made her a threat in Bob Riley's eyes. It meant she could not be trusted to keep her mouth shut about "family secrets." That meant she was a state employee who had to go--much the way I would later have to go at UAB.
Bill Britt's reporting on the Melissa George Bowman case speaks volumes about the Riley family's utter lack of ethics. It also says a lot about the paranoia that must be rampant among Riley insiders.
I've been reporting for almost a year about Chase's involvement in the personal debt-collection nightmare my wife and I have experienced. I've presented tape-recorded evidence and transcripts of telephone calls that show Chase and its affiliates repeatedly violated federal law in an effort to collect a credit-card debt they could not prove I even owed. We've reported on allegations in a federal lawsuit that Chase played a prominent role in cheating my wife out of her job at a Birmingham-based insurance company. We soon will be presenting evidence that Chase and affiliated lawyers have attempted to corrupt the federal-court system in the Northern District of Alabama.
Now, it appears Mrs. Schnauzer and I are not the only ones fighting back against Chase and its rogue debt-collection network. The attorney general of California last week filed a lawsuit, claiming Chase resorted to unlawful tactics in an effort to collect alleged debts from some 100,000 credit-card holders in the state. Meanwhile, the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the bank's chief regulators, is preparing an enforcement action against Chase over the way it collects credit-card debt, according to a new report at The New York Times.
You can be certain the Schnauzer household will make sure that officials in California and D.C.--and anywhere in between--have access to evidence we have accumulated against Chase. It is, as our regular readers know, voluminous and irrefutable.
In California, Chase faces charges that it engaged in illegal tactics such as "robo-signing" and "sewer service litigation" to flood state courthouses with lawsuits that are not supported by facts. AG Kamala Harris takes a dim view of the practice, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times:
Chase's use of illegal robo-signing was “widespread,” Harris' office alleges. The practice involved automatic signing of various documents--some sworn--without reviewing the paperwork or bank records.
"Sewer service" litigation against borrowers was also used by Chase, the suit alleges. The bank failed to even notify credit card holders it was taking them to court, while Chase claimed they had been notified as required by law, Harris' office claims.
What effect does this have on California courts?
Chase, the lawsuit claims, effectively used California's judicial system like a "mill" to obtain default judgments and garnish borrowers' wages. The bank filed thousands of lawsuits every month from January 2008 until April 2011, the state claims. On one day alone, Chase lodged 469 such suits.
Chase also sought default judgments against borrowers who were military members on active duty, the suit claims.
“At nearly every stage of the collection process, defendants cut corners in the name of speed, cost savings and their own convenience, providing only the thinnest veneer of legitimacy to their lawsuits,” the complaint says.
In many cases, Chase uses lies, threats, and other violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) to scare consumers into paying money they might not even owe. These tactics are employed long before a case reaches the courtroom phase, and my wife and I have experienced them firsthand.
Several layers of bureaucracy often clog a path that flows from Chase to a consumer. In our case, collectors from the Birmingham law firm of Ingram & Associates communicated directly with us. Evidence in our FDCPA lawsuit showed that Pennsylvania-based NCO placed the alleged debt, from an American Express card, with Ingram & Associates. And JPMorgan Chase, via an investment arm called One Equity Partners, owns NCO. Evidence in our case also showed that Ingram & Associates had no documents to show I even possessed an American Express card, much less that I owed a debt on one.
Under the law, Chase had an "agency relationship" with NCO and Ingram & Associates--and that means Chase had "vicarious liability" for the wrongdoing committed against us. What form did the wrongdoing take? We presented a series of videos, including audio that was recorded from conversations with collectors, that lays it out:
* Debt collector for JPMorgan Chase unlawfully communicates with third party to an alleged debt
* Debt collector for JPMorgan Chase unlawfully makes false statements to consumer
* Debt collector for JPMorgan Chase unlawfully directs abusive language to alleged debtor
* Debt collector for JPMorgan Chase unlawfully uses misleading and deceptive language with consumer
We also have presented transcripts that illustrate the misconduct in black and white. The California attorney general is focusing on debt-collection abuses that are designed to cheat consumers in courtrooms. But many consumers cave in to unlawful threats and harassment long before their cases ever reach a courtroom. In fact, evidence strongly suggests that Chase and other collectors engage in such strong-arm tactics because they know they don't have documents to prove a case in court.
The following transcripts lay out such such tactics in stark detail. We will be sharing this information with various state and federal authorities:
|Melissa George Bowman|
Melissa C. George filed the complaint against Riley communications director David Azbell, and it was settled for $53,000 in December 2003, according to a report last week from Bill Britt of Alabama Political Reporter. Britt's investigative piece included a copy of the settlement agreement and related documents, which can be viewed at the end of this post. (Melissa George since has married, and now is Melissa Bowman George; she serves as public relations manager for the Alabama Hospital Association.)
The settlement agreement itself is brief--less than three full pages--and it contains curious language that does not seem to add up. Here are key provisions in the agreement:
* George made a complaint of "harassment and discrimination" against a state employee, Azbell;
* George decided that "the best course of action to secure her professional future" was to leave her state job;
* The Riley administration agreed to "facilitate George's transition to the private sector" by providing a letter of reference from Chief of Staff Toby Roth, placing a copy of the letter in George's state-employee file, providing a re-dated version of the letter to any prospective employer, providing "only favorable and positive references" to any future inquiries regarding George's past employment, and ensuring that George was classified as eligible for re-employment with the state.
* George was allowed to maintain her state retirement account in the same fashion as all other employees who leave state service voluntarily and in good standing.
* George acknowledged that Riley and Roth "did not participate in, and deny any awareness of, the conduct giving rise to" the settlement agreement.
* George retained the services of Bobby Segall, an attorney with the Montgomery firm Copeland Franco Screws & Gill.
What is nonsensical about the settlement agreement? Let's consider what the Riley administration apparently would have us believe:
* Language in the agreement consistently indicates that George was an excellent employee. She was to exit in good standing, with only favorable and positive references, and she was eligible for re-employment with the state. And yet, it was George's idea to leave her position in order to "secure her professional future"?
* Higher ups in the Riley administration were unaware of Azbell's boorish behavior toward George, according to the agreement. And yet, the problem had become severe enough that George hired an attorney?
As a former state employee myself, with almost 20 years of service at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), I know this agreement almost has to include a heavy dose of horse feces, probably inserted at the insistence of the Riley administration.
State employees generally do not bring down mega salaries, but their jobs come with solid benefits that one does not lightly give up. We see no reason to doubt that Melissa George was an outstanding state employee; after all, she started in the press office under Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and was in the process of staying on under Riley. But we see plenty of reason to doubt that it was Ms. George's idea to leave her state position. Why would a state employee--who was good at her job--decide that "the best course of action to secure her professional future" was to quit? Answer: she wouldn't. That idea almost certainly came from the Riley administration. The implication in the settlement agreement is that someone was going to make Melissa George's work life a living hell if she stayed--and her professional future was going to be jeopardized by unjustified negative references. In other words, Bob Riley and Toby Roth bullied Melissa George into quitting a job that she probably enjoyed until David Azbell came along.
Here is another oddity: Riley and Roth could have helped George transition to another state job; any number of departments probably would have been happy to have her. But they wanted to make sure she was forced into the "private sector." Why?
As for the notion that neither Riley nor Roth knew about Ms. George's problems with Azbell . . . I find that highly unlikely. I was the victim of harassment and discrimination from my UAB supervisor, Pam Powell, so I know what the complaint process is like in a state job. I verbally complained to Powell's superior, Dale Turnbough, and filed a formal, written grievance with human resources. I made numerous efforts to resolve the situation internally, as suggested by our employee handbook, long before lawyers entered the picture. I feel certain that Melissa George took a similar course of action, especially since her employee handbook probably read a lot like mine did.
It's certainly possible that Bob Riley, as governor, was not aware of Azbell's behavior toward George. But it's hard to believe that Melissa George went straight to an outside attorney without first trying to resolve the matter internally. And that means Toby Roth, as Azbell's superior, probably knew about the situation--and, like higher ups at UAB in my case, failed to correct it.
We are left with a portrait of an administration that did not take workplace harassment and discrimination seriously. David Azbell's treatment of Melissa George was bad enough. But Bob Riley and Toby Roth made sure she was victimized a second time.
J. Scott Vowell retired in January as presiding judge. But Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste says that, before leaving office, Vowell launched a harassment campaign against her that included unwanted sexual advances. Batiste also alleges in a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Vowell referred to her as "the colored Republican."
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) suspended Batiste with pay amid allegations that she had abused her contempt powers. Batiste says in an affidavit supporting her EEOC complaint that Vowell led the campaign against her in retaliation for spurning his sexual advances.
Batiste was elected in November 2010 to a judgeship in the domestic-relations division, and she quickly experienced peculiar behavior from the presiding judge. From the Batiste affidavit:
By April 2011, Judge Vowell had become very flirtatious toward me. Although there are 38 judges total in the Jefferson County Circuit Court system, Scott Vowell started making it a practice to come see me at least once a week in my office. When he came in, the door would close behind him.
At first, Judge Vowell engaged in small talk, such as, "How are you doing, etc.," and sometimes would give me a hug. One day however in April 2011, Judge Vowell came up to me. placed his body directly in front of me, and then put his arms down by my waist, with his fingers just above my buttocks area, and with his mouth near my ear, whispered, "Boy, you're a hot little thing, and you're looking good in that dress today." However, I brushed him off and stood there in shock. Judge Vowell left the room, without saying anything more."
Batiste discovered that, throughout 2012 and well into 2013, Vowell encouraged attorneys and litigants to file JIC complaints against her.:
Word had circulated in the divorce case industry around Jefferson County that, if one was unhappy with my ruling, all he or she had to do was go see Judge Vowell, and he would help the unhappy litigant file a complaint against me.
In May or June 2012, it got back to me that Scott Vowell was derisively referring to me as "the colored Republican." Several people told me this when they called to express their support. They were quoting Judge Vowell.
Batiste soon found herself the target of numerous JIC complaints. Vowell, Batiste says, has long-standing ties to the JIC and the Alabama Court of the Judiciary:
It became painfully obvious to me that this burst of complaints . . . were so encouraged or inspired by Judge Vowell that it clearly reflected his efforts to retaliate against me for not caving in to his demands and sexual overtures months earlier. Scott Vowell is a very clever and intelligent man, and thus attempted to cleverly disguise his retaliation by making it look like the complaint really came from another attorney or litigant. While I do not object to my judicial conduct being scrutinized by the [JIC] or the general public, I greatly object . . . to how much Judge Vowell did to stimulate these complaints, especially for what I believe was unlawful retaliation, based on my rejecting his sexual advances.
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