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

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    When Barack Obama said in January 2009 that he planned to "look forward as opposed to looking backwards" at the apparent crimes of the George W. Bush administration, reasonable observers knew that comment would come back to bite the president-elect some day.

    That moment came yesterday when President Obama told reporters at a White House press conference that he was outraged over disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.

    Obama went so far as to say that he would not tolerate a government agency that targets individuals and groups based on political affiliations. But those words ring hollow when you realize that Obama has tolerated exactly such behavior from the outset of his administration. The president's words are especially hollow here in Alabama, where we've held front-row seats to the political prosecution of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman during the Bush years--not to mention the politically charged Alabama bingo prosecution under the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ).

    How serious are the IRS disclosures? A report from The Washington Postmakes clear that they are ugly, indeed:

    Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

    IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.

    IRS employees in Cincinnati told conservatives seeking the status of “social welfare” groups that a task force in Washington was overseeing their applications, according to interviews with the activists.

    Obama reacted with understandable indignation. Reports The Post:

    In a news conference Monday, President Obama said he learned of the investigating in media reports on Friday and has “no patience with it.”

    “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on, and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous,” Obama said. “And there’s no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.”

    How can we square Obama's calls for accountability in the IRS scandal with his vow to ignore DOJ abuses? We can't. The president long ago punted his moral authority on abusive government actions--and there is no getting it back now.

    Let's consider just a little of what we know about the Siegelman case--and it is only one of dozens of political prosecutions during the Bush years. We touched on the subject last week with a post about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was released last summer after being imprisoned for almost six years in the Siegelman case. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Scrushy said government investigators made it clear that he could avoid prosecution by agreeing to testify falsely against Siegelman. Here is the quote from Scrushy:

    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.

    Does the IRS scandal look bad? Yes. Does it compare with ongoing corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice, from rogue prosecutors to crooked federal judges? Not even close.

    Since the IRS story broke last Friday, conservative voices have been squealing, calling for Congressional inquiries and the like. These are pretty much the same conservative voices who were silent when Bush adviser Karl Rove was anally raping the ideals that undergird our justice system.

    No one, of course, should be surprised at such hypocrisy from conservatives. But we should expect far better from Barack Obama, especially on justice issues. So far, the president has failed to deliver at every turn.

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    Lowell Barron
    The Republican attorney general of Alabama has indicted a prominent Democrat for alleged violations of ethics and campaign-finance laws.

    Public records, however, indicate the Republican AG has committed the same "crime" he is alleging against a Democrat. It all suggests the political prosecutions that plagued our state during the George W. Bush years have not gone away--their point of origin simply has shifted from the U.S. Department of Justice to the state attorney general's office.

    AG Luther Strange accuses former state senator Lowell Barron, in an April 19 indictment, of illegally transferring $58,000, plus title to a 2007 Toyota Camry, to former campaign staffer Rhonda Jill Johnson.

    According to press reports, the charges stem in part from Barron listing his payments to Johnson as "administrative" expenses. But a review of Luther Strange's 2010 campaign expenditures show that he made 14 "administrative" payments to MDM 27 Holdings Inc., a company owned by his former campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison. (Strange's campaign expenditures, from 6/10/2010 to 10/23/2012, can be viewed at the end of this post.)

    The administrative payments, when combined with three "consulting" payments, total $207,015.26 to MDM 27 Holdings.

    If it is a crime for Lowell Barron to transfer $58,000 or so to a former campaign staffer, wouldn't it also be a crime for Luther Strange to transfer more than $200,000 to a company owned by a former campaign staffer?

    We have a hard time finding a distinction between Barron's "crime" and Strange's "non-crime." If anything, Strange's actions look more fishy than Barron's. Strange's payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison are almost four times those involved in the Barron case. And deception appears to be involved in Strange's payments, which went to a holding company rather to Garrison directly. Barron made the payments directly to Johnson, and he reported them as required by law. If deception is part of this alleged crime, it's hard to see where any was present in the Barron case.

    Barron once was one of the state's most powerful politicians, spending six terms in the state house before losing his 2010 race. He reportedly maintains a sizable campaign war chest and is expected to attempt a political comeback in 2014.

    Is that the real reason the attorney general's office targeted Barron? Is this another case of a Democrat being indicted for standard political behavior in the Deep South? Joe Espy, Barron's attorney, touched on those issues in a recent report at al.com:

    Barron's attorney, Joe Espy, said there was no denying the transactions took place between Barron and Johnson because they were a part of Barron's campaign finance disclosures. The issue is the interpretation made by Strange, Espy said, that laws were broken in those transactions.

    "How could we dispute the transactions not taking place when we publicly disclosed them?" Espy said "Sen. Lowell Barron and his campaign publicly disclosed every transaction we're talking about. We don't dispute them. We said, 'Hey, we ran a campaign, these are our expenses and we paid this lady.' That's about as simple as I can make it.

    "Does it take two years to bring charges against a man who is not a public official . . . who has publicly disclosed everything they bring out? Does anything address your common sense and tell you something is wrong? Every smell test I know, it does not pass."

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    Dorothea Batiste
    A retired Jefferson County presiding judge, who is white and male, routinely changed rulings of a black, female circuit judge, according to a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

    Circuit Judge Dorothea Batiste, who is under suspension from the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), makes the allegations against J. Scott Vowell, who served on the bench from 1995 until his retirement at the end of 2012. Batiste alleges that Vowell orchestrated JIC complaints against her in retaliation for rejecting his sexual advances, which started about three months after she took office in January 2011.

    The JIC complaint against Batiste is based mainly on her alleged abuse of contempt powers in domestic-relations cases. But Batiste alleges in her EEOC complaint that Vowell took no action against a white female judge who made ample use of her contempt powers in the domestic-relations division. (The full EEOC complaint, with exhibits, can be viewed at the end of this post.)

    In essence, Batiste alleges that Vowell unlawfully served in her cases as an appellate judge, a role that goes far beyond the duties of a presiding judge under Alabama law. If proven, Vowell's actions could make him the target of lawsuits for acting outside his jurisdiction. They might constitute criminal contempt of court and could even rise to the level of criminal acts under state and federal law.

    How brazen was Vowell? Batiste spells it out on page 2 of her EEOC complaint:

    Even back in 2011, but continuing on into 2012, Judge Vowell would make a point of upsetting me by finding cases where I had issued rulings and, without telling me in advance he was doing so, then would enter documentary paperwork to change my rulings. In addition, Judge Vowell took cases away from me, without my permission or knowledge, to favor certain litigants, some of whom were his friends. This included certain lawyers. When I found out about this, I was quite upset and told him he should not be doing this--that it was not right, nor ethical, and it had to stop. In reply, Judge Vowell said, "I don't care what you have to say."

    The material in bold strongly suggests that Vowell was not just discriminating against Batiste--he also was acting to favor certain litigants and lawyers with whom he was friendly. If proven, this represents a gross obstruction of the justice process and indicates that Vowell probably has knowingly been involved in the hunting-club corruption that has infested Jefferson County divorce courts for years.

    Multiple federal lawsuits have been filed over hunting-club issues, with Samford University law professor Joseph Blackburn playing a leading role for plaintiffs, but the cases have been dismissed on dubious grounds so far. In one federal case, Blackburn represented himself as a plaintiff, claiming his divorce from U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn was tainted with corruption. In another, Blackburn served as an attorney for a number of Jefferson County residents who alleged they were victims of a rigged divorce-court system.

    We have written extensively about the hunting-club issue, noting the apparent efforts of federal judges to dismiss the cases and deny discovery, contrary to law. Here are three key posts we've written on the subject:

    Courts Try to Sweep Hunting-Club Corruption Under the Rug in Alabama (May 8, 2012)

    Here Is More Evidence That Federal Judges Are Trying to Hide Hunting-Club Corruption in Alabama (Aug. 13, 2012)

    Why Were No Opinions Issued On Appeals of Alabama Hunting-Club Lawsuits? (Sept. 4, 2012)

    The public record shows that, at the very least, Scott Vowell allowed hunting-club corruption to fester on his watch as presiding judge. But Batiste's allegations, if proven, indicate Vowell actively took part in the corruption.

    Scott Vowell
    Alabama law states that the primary role of a presiding judge is to supervise judges and court personnel to "see that they attend strictly to the prompt, diligent discharge of their duties." (See Code of Alabama 12-17-24.) Circuit courts serve an appellate function over matters that originate in district or municipal courts. (See Code of Alabama 12-11-30.) But the domestic-relations cases before Batiste originated in circuit court, so Vowell had no authority to act on those matters. Appellate authority rests solely with the Alabama Supreme Court, plus the courts of civil and criminal appeals. (See Code of Alabama 12-2-7.)

    Batiste's EEOC complaint indicates Vowell undermined her authority at almost every turn:

    What especially upset me, starting at the end of the summer of 2011 and continuing into 2012, was that Judge Vowell (as he himself later has admitted in a letter) started meeting with lawyers representing litigants in my courtroom. [See Judge Vowell's letter admitting to it. Exhibit 1.] However, it also later became obvious that Judge Vowell was stirring up lawyers unhappy with their client's rulings in my courtroom. Of course, in a divorce case, one side is always unhappy, and frequently both sides. Both sides are usually quite unhappy even before they get to the courtroom.

    As for use of contempt powers, Batiste says Vowell seemed unconcerned when such powers were used by a white judge. Batiste points to Circuit Judge Suzanne Childers, who became known for carrying a gun on the bench:

    There is another example of disparate treatment given by Judge Vowell to a white female judge, namely [Suzanne] Childers, of the Jefferson County Circuit, Domestic Relations Division. She sentenced litigant Keith Muhammad to 325 days . . . for non-payment of child support, and he actually served it from October 6, 2011, to January 5, 2012. In fact, this judge issued such orders on a routine basis (sometimes putting 2 to 3 people in jail in different cases on the same day). Scott Vowell never complained about Ms. Childers to the AJIC. Instead, when she asked for extra help, Scott Vowell gave it to her. [See Exhibit 7].

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    Eric Holder
    (Updated at 11:55 a.m. on 5/16/13)

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday said it's his understanding that former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman has an active appeal and therefore is not eligible to have his sentence commuted.

    As a journalist based in Birmingham, I have followed the Siegelman case closely since this blog began in June 2007--and I am not aware of any active appeal on Siegelman's behalf. Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was codefendant in the case, has an appeal pending before the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta, but that was not filed by Siegelman's lawyers.

    If Siegelman has an active appeal, it has escaped my attention. And that raises this question: Is Eric Holder mistaken or did he intentionally make a misleading statement to Congress and the American people? I have sent queries to Siegelman's legal team, seeking clarification about any appeals, plus their response to Holder's statements. We will update this post as new information becomes available.

    (Update: Joseph Siegelman, the governor's son, released the following statement on a progressive listserv in Alabama: 
    Yes, my dad is appealing [Judge Mark] Fuller's denial of a new trial. Nonetheless, Holder does appear to be hiding behind those in-house guidelines to avoid dealing with the case head on.)

    Holder's remarks came in response to questions from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) in a House Judiciary Committee hearing. A video of the exchange can be viewed at the end of this post.

    Debra J. Saunders, of the San Francisco Chronicle, strongly criticized Holder's performance in a piece titled "Eric Holder has a bad memory on pardons." From the Saunders post:

    At Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., asked Attorney General Eric Holder if he would push for a presidential pardon for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. “The president could pardon him now,” said Cohen as he pressed Holder.

    Holder responded that Siegelman is not eligible to apply for a pardon because he’s currently serving his sentence, and a commutation not possible because he has an appeal. Cohen rightly noted that those are Department of Justice rules, but they do not constrain the president. Holder agreed: “The president’s pardon power is close to absolute.”

    Cohen then noted that Ron Rodgers, a pardons attorney with the Department of Justice (DOJ), is a George W. Bush appointee--an apparent reference to the fact Siegelman was prosecuted under the Bush DOJ. Cohen then asked about Rodgers' apparent ethical lapses. The unasked question hanging over this exchange: "Why in the hell is Mr. Rodgers still in his position, with authority over the Siegelman pardon process?" From the Saunders piece:

    Is your Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers under investigation for withholding information? Cohen asked, referring to an Inspector General probe.

    Holder answered:

    “There were some difficulties in connection, I don’t remember what the individual’s name was, about information that was I guess relayed to the White House from the Pardon Attorney’s office, but I think corrective measures have been put in place so that kind of mistake would not happen in the future.”

    The individual’s name — and Holder should know it – is Clarence Aaron, who outrageously was sentenced to life without parole for a first-time nonviolent drug offense. And Holder should be outraged that Pardon Attorney Ronald Rodgers withheld vital information on Aaron’s case. The only corrective measure that can prevent a repeat would be to remove Rodgers from a position for which he temperamentally is unsuited.

    Saunders closed her post with a cutting critique of Holder's record:

    By the way, none of the 16 Puerto Rican national terrorists pardoned by President Clinton — with an assist from Holder — had applied for pardons. But that didn’t stop Holder at the time. But then this Attorney General never has been overly preoccupied with any notions of justice.

    Steve Cohen got to the heart of profound issues raised by the Siegelman case--and he never received much of a response from Eric Holder:

    Numerous legal experts have said this was a grave injustice . . . Can you assure me that you will review his case because in my opinion . . . an innocent man is in jail, being deprived of liberty? Nothing is more important than liberty; taking your liberty is probably the harshest thing the government can do to a person. We have taken this gentleman's liberty, and I believe we need to look at that case."

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    Robert Vance Jr.
    An Alabama judge faces a federal lawsuit that alleges he took a case from another judge and issued unlawful rulings that caused substantial financial harm to a trust organized under Nevada law. The William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust and Alabama resident Steven Mark Hayden seek $25 million in damages from Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr.

    The complaint, filed by Bessemer attorney Austin Burdick, alleges that lawyers from the Birmingham firm Maynard Cooper & Gale engaged in flagrant forum shopping, taking a number of improper steps to ensure that Vance would handle the underlying case.  (See federal complaint at the end of this post.)

    Vance, a Democrat, ran in 2012 for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and lost in the general election to Republican Roy Moore. We adamantly opposed Vance's run for a seat on the state's highest court, and now we have more evidence that he is not fit to serve on any bench, much less in a leadership capacity.

    Charges that Vance would unlawfully favor Maynard Cooper & Gale (MCG) and one of its wealthy clients should come as no surprise to the public. I've written a series of articles showing that Vance has a history of unlawfully favoring large, downtown-Birmingham law firms over everyday litigants. (See here, here, and here.)

    Vance comes from what might be called "Alabama legal royalty."  His father, Robert Vance Sr., was a federal judge who was killed by a mail bomb in 1989. His wife, Joyce White Vance, is the current U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, appointed by President Barack Obama. Because of his family history, Vance Jr. enjoys a strong reputation among lawyers--but the general public should not be fooled by that. I tend to be supportive in this space of Democrats, but Robert Vance Jr. has proven that his main interest is protecting the interests of his colleagues in the legal establishment.

    What about the pending federal lawsuit against Vance Jr. The doctrine of judicial immunity generally protects judges from lawsuits for actions taken on the bench. But Burdick's complaint alleges that Vance usurped the authority of another judge, took a case that was not assigned to him, and repeatedly acted outside his judicial capacity to issue orders that benefited MCG's client.

    Burdick filed a Motion for Recusal in an underlying state case on January 9, 2013, but Vance refused to step down. Burdick then filed a Petition for a Writ of Mandamus, asking the Alabama Supreme Court to force Vance to step aside. The petition was denied without briefing, meaning the state's high court did not even address the merits of the claims against Vance.

    A federal lawsuit, styled William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust and Steven Mark Hayden v. Robert S. Vance Jr., 2:13-CV-0286-SLB, was filed on February 11. The Alabama Attorney General's Office filed a Motion to Dismiss on Vance's behalf, and Burdick filed a response on April 10. U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn initially scheduled a hearing on the Motion to Dismiss, but when one of the parties asked for a continuance due to a scheduling conflict, Blackburn announced that she would rule on the motion based on the pleadings, without oral argument.

    It is not known when Blackburn will issue a ruling, but Vance has a hearing set in the underlying state case for Friday, May 31.

    At the heart of the controversy is William B. Cashion, an 84-year-old businessman who is co-founder of Bessemer-based Western Steel Inc. (WSI) and a shareholder in several other Alabama corporate entities. In 2007, while in the midst of a divorce, Cashion executed a durable power of attorney, designating his nephew, Dr. Steven Mark Hayden, as his agent and attorney-in-fact.

    Cashion remarried in 2008, and his new wife, Frankie B. Cashion, states in court documents that her husband became obsessed with investments in Alabama gold mines that supposedly were to generate large sums of revenue. Mrs. Cashion states in an affidavit that her husband invested almost $7 million in the gold-mining project before she was able to stop him. "He is at risk of selling interest in his fraudulent gold mine to other investors which would be based on fraudulent assays. . . . , " Mrs. Cashion states. "His family, friends, and business are being harmed by his poor judgment."

    In 2011, Dr. Steven Hayden used his authority as power of attorney to form the William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust (WBC Trust), and all of Cashion's stock in WSI was transferred to the Trust. Angela Rae Hayden, Steven Hayden's wife, serves as trustee of the WBC Trust, and the Haydens live in Wetumpka, Alabama, where he practices family and emergency medicine. Court documents show that Steven Hayden is the current president of Western Steel, Inc., replacing Gene Calhoun, who retired in 2012.

    William B. Cashion filed a lawsuit in Clark County, Nevada, claiming the WBC Trust is not valid, and that case was dismissed with prejudice in April 2012. Cashion filed a state action in Alabama, seeking relief similar to that in the Nevada case. Cashion's primary lawyers in Alabama are James P. Naftel II, Jim Goyer, and John D. Bethany Jr., of MCG.

    The Alabama case, styled William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. v. Steven Mark Hayden, et al, CV-2012-209, was assigned to Jefferson County Circuit Judge Houston Brown. But according to Burdick's federal complaint, Vance unlawfully seized the case and issued four rulings that all were favorable to MCG and its primary client, William B. Cashion.

    MCG's first curious move was filing the case in the Birmingham Division of Jefferson County. Burdick claims the proper venue is Elmore County because none of the parties resides in or maintains a principal place of business in the Birmingham Division of Jefferson County.

    After filing the state case on February 8, 2012, MCG lawyers filed a motion to transfer the case to the Commercial Litigation Docket, which was created by Jefferson County Circuit Court (Birmingham Division) Administrative Order No. 2009-23. Vance has come to handle most of the cases on the Commercial Litigation Docket.

    Court records show the case was assigned to Judge Brown at 2:02 p.m. on February 8, but at 3:30 p.m. on that date, Judge Vance issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) sought by MCG lawyers, on behalf of Cashion and Western Steel.

    In the federal complaint, Burdick cites this as the first sign of Vance's improper actions in the state case:

    At the time that Vance signed the TRO he did so with knowledge that he did not preside over the case. The electronic case action summary reflects that Judge Vance had available on his computer the notice and assignment of the case to Judge Houston Brown.

    Less than 20 minutes after the case had been assigned to Brown, MCG lawyers approached him for an ex parte order that would transfer the case to Vance. Brown entered an order submitting the issue of reassignment to the presiding circuit judge, pursuant to the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration. But Vance jumped the gun, acting repeatedly before the case was assigned to him. From Burdick's federal complaint:

    However at that time Judge Brown was not relieved of authority to preside over the case, and Vance was not granted authority or jurisdiction over the case. At that time, the case was not before Judge Vance. Judge Brown in his order made no claim that he had authority to transfer the case to Judge Vance. In fact, Judge Brown at that time did not have authority to transfer or reassign the case as he was not the presiding judge in the circuit. Judge Vance also had no authority to transfer the case to his own docket.

    Burdick alleges that neither Cashion nor his MCG lawyers were concerned about following proper procedure. Instead, the federal complaint states, they mainly were concerned about getting the case before a favorable judge, Robert Vance Jr.:

    It is clear that Cashion and  his attorneys wanted Judge Vance to preside over their case. Cashion first filed the case in a venue where none of the parties to the action resides or maintains a principal place of business. Cashion filed a motion with his complaint requesting that the matter be transferred to the Commercial Litigation Docket. All cases approved for the Commercial Litigation Docket are assigned to Judge Vance unless he declines them on the basis of docket volume. . . . Cashion went to an improper venue specifically to select Judge Vance. 
    Judge Vance not only accommodated this forum shopping, he ventured to rule on the case before the forum shoppers even made it to the checkout aisle.

    J. Scott Vowell, who then was presiding judge in Jefferson County, entered an order on March 14, 2012,  transferring the case to Vance. But by then, Vance already had issued four orders in the case--all favorable to MCG and its client, William B. Cashion. From the federal complaint:

    Because these orders were rendered in a matter not assigned to Judge Vance, they represent non-judicial acts under the color of law. Vance's acts . . . violate both the substantive and procedural due process rights of the Trust and Hayden.

    Did Vance's actions have consequences? The federal complaint answers that question with an emphatic "yes":

    Said extra-judicial orders were prejudicial to the Trust in that they prevented the Trust from performing its duties to nurture the trust principal. The Trust suffered the loss of considerable investment returns and interest. The Trust also was deprived of assets valued at more than $20,000,000.00.
    The Trust and Hayden also continue to suffer considerable costs and attorneys fees in an effort to overcome Vance's usurpation of judicial authority.

    Why did MCG want the case before Robert Vance Jr.? That brings us to sticky campaign-finance issues--and we will address those in upcoming posts.

    (To be continued)

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    Bonnie Cahalane
    An Alabama woman who was unlawfully incarcerated for five months last year has something in common with a man who co-wrote one of the most memorable songs of the rock-and-roll era.

    Bonnie Cahalane and Don Felder surely never set out to help illustrate a fundamental legal concept, one that often is accompanied by rancor, stress, and major doses of general unpleasantness. But their stories intersect in a way that spotlights a critical difference between a contract that is valid and one that is not.

    That thought struck me the other night as I was watching History of the Eagles: The Story of an American Band, a Showtime documentary about the country-rock group that came to define the Southern California Sound of the 1970s. Produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, History of the Eagles likely will be one of the most-watched documentaries of 2013. Over the course of three hours, the film covers the band's 42-year history--from its formation in 1971, to a breakup in 1980, to a 14-year "vacation" that involved numerous solo projects, to a reunion in 1994, to its current status as one of the biggest concert draws on the planet.

    I set out to watch the film mainly because I long have admired the Eagles' music, especially the contributions of the two remaining founding members, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. Any list of the greatest songwriting teams in music history surely is topped by Lennon and McCartney. But Henley and Frey--whose partnership helped produce "Desperado," "One of These Nights," "Take It to the Limit," "Life In the Fast Lane," "New Kid in Town," "The Long Run," and many more--deserve a spot mighty high on the list.

    History of the Eagles captures the conflicts and tension that drove the band to staggering heights--and the film is filled with the stories behind many songs that became staples of classic-rock radio, so there is much for the music lover to enjoy. But darned if I didn't come away thinking about the law--and one of our ongoing stories here at Legal Schnauzer.

    How on earth did that happen? Well, it started from what I know about the legal travails of Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane, who spent five months last year in the Chilton County Jail, known to many central Alabamians as "The Chilton Hilton." The facility's nickname might cause you to smile, but spending time behind bars there most assuredly is not fun--especially when you are there contrary to black-letter Alabama law.

    (Note: We have referred to Ms. Cahalane in previous posts as Bonnie Cahalane Wyatt. But she now has a certificate of divorce from Harold Wyatt and goes by her maiden name of Bonnie Cahalane.)

    Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds held Cahalane in contempt and threw her in jail for failure to pay a property-related debt from her divorce case. Clear Alabama case law--perhaps best stated in a case styled Dolberry v. Dolberry, 920 So. 2d 573 (Ala. Civ. App., 2005) --holds that a party is not subject to contempt and incarceration because of a property-related debt from dissolution of a marriage.

    Cahalane was released from jail on December 18, 2012, after an agreement was reached that she would sell her house to pay off an alleged debt to Harold Wyatt for his equity in the property.

    Sources tell Legal Schnauzer that the agreement was reached in Reynolds' courtroom while Cahalane was wearing jail clothes. Court documents indicate she was going to return to jail that day if she did not agree to sell her house. The property currently is on the market, listed with a RealtySouth agent named Amber Darnell. We have a number of questions for Ms. Cahalane's attorney, Angie Avery Collins of Clanton, and we left a message at her office on Friday.

    Does Amber Darnell have a valid contract to sell Bonnie Cahalane's house? No, she does not. That's because of a legal concept--well stated in a case styled Claybrook v. Claybrook (Ala. Civ. App., 2010)--that holds a contract is void when it is reached under duress. If the threat of being unlawfully returned to "The Chilton Hilton" is not duress, I'm not sure what is.

    That brings us back to "Hotel California" and Don Felder. For all of the Eagles' hits, their signature song is "Hotel California," about a mythical resort where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." The song won the 1977 Grammy Award for Record of the Year and ranks No. 49 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." The song's closing guitar solo was voted the best solo of all time by readers of Guitarist magazine.

    Don Felder
    Who created "Hotel California"? Henley and Frey are credited as two of the three writers, and they wrote the lyrics and shaped the melody. But the famous solo, the instantly recognizable guitar intro, and the entire basic music track were written by Don Felder. His name is listed first among the writers, and that is because his music track gave birth to the entire song--a tune that still will be played long after everyone currently on earth has perished.

    Like Bonnie Cahalane, Don Felder knows a thing or two about signing a contract under duress. That episode provides one of the key moments in History of the Eagles. The documentary surely was not designed to teach a mini seminar on contract law. But that's exactly what it does.

    (To be continued)

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    Our reporting on justice issues in Alabama and beyond has drawn the attention of national Web sites in recent days.

    New York-based Above the Law (ATL), which might be the nation's most widely read legal Web site, yesterday highlighted our post on Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. and the  $25-million federal lawsuit pending against him. An item on the Vance case was included in ATL's "Non Sequitirs," a daily roundup of unusual legal news. 

    The day before, the Philadelphia-based progressive Web site OpEd News (OEN) included an interview with yours truly about President Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal. Joan Brunwasser, who I consider one of the finest interviewers in the progressive blogosphere, focused on Obama's outrage over the IRS's targeting of conservative groups compared to his apparent unconcern about Justice Department abuses, such as the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. Brunwasser's piece is titled "Obama A Big Hypocrite? Ask Legal Schnauzer, Roger Shuler."

    Today, Debra J. Saunders, of the San Francisco Chronicle, cites our work while examining  Eric Holder's sorry performance in a piece at sfgate.com. The Saunders piece is titled "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Attorney General."

    Our blog has enjoyed a substantial national (even international) audience for several years, but it is particularly gratifying to have fellow journalists take note of our work--and the role that activities in Alabama play on the big legal stage.

    Above the Law is the brainchild of Yale law graduate David Lat, who has found a sizable audience for his site's snarky, gossipy, insider take on the world of law. Here is ATL's take on the Vance lawsuit:

    Alabama judge faces $25 million lawsuit alleging he improperly took a case from another judge and issued damaging rulings. This is the judge who ran against Chief Justice Roy “Don’t Remove the Ten Commandments From the Courthouse” Moore. The moral of the story is: don’t use the Alabama judicial system. [Legal Schnauzer]

    Unfortunately, for those of us who live in "The Heart of Dixie," the Alabama legal system is the only one we have. 

    At OpEd News, Brunwasser and I take a big-picture view at Obama's response to the notion that government agencies target certain individuals and groups for political reasons. Brunwasser asked what bothered me about Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal, and here is part of my response:

    In early January 2009, just a few days before he took office, President-Elect Obama said he intended to "look forward, as opposed to looking backwards" on apparent crimes under the Bush administration. As president, Obama seems to have followed through on that pledge because his Justice Department has failed to review political prosecutions such as the one involving former Governor Don Siegelman in Alabama, where I live. 
    Political prosecutions, of course, were just of one of many improper acts on the justice front during the Bush years--torture, warrantless wiretapping, firings of U.S. attorneys were among the others. In essence, Obama issued a decree that no one would be held accountable for those acts. 
    Obama's "look forward" statement made no sense at the time, and it makes even less sense now, coming after he expressed outrage the other day over disclosures about the IRS targeting conservative groups for political reasons. Obama said in a news conference that he would not "tolerate" such actions, that wrongdoers must be held "accountable," and the problem must be "fixed." 
    But his inaction toward the DOJ shows that he will tolerate the targeting of political opponents, that he will not hold individuals accountable for such actions, and he will not take steps to fix the problem. Obama was uttering empty words at his press conference about the IRS. Many of us expect that from a Republican chief executive; we should demand better from a Democrat.

    Are there signs of hope for those who want the Obama administration to address DOJ abuses? I struggled to find any:

    I don't believe progress will be made until the Obama DOJ grows a spine and initiates an investigation of the Siegelman case and other Bush-era political prosecutions. Pardoning Don Siegelman would be a positive step. But we cannot allow such manipulation of our justice apparatus to remain unaddressed. If Obama leaves office with these issues still hanging, he has been a failure, in my view.

    Also, this could wind up at Obama's doorstep someday. He has appointed any number of large donors to ambassadorships and such. Once he's out of office, a Republican DOJ could claim that appointments involved "inferred quid pro quos," and Obama and those donors could be at huge risk. The president ignores this issue at his own peril.

    More importantly, it imperils the Democrat Party. Are candidates and donors going to get involved if they know they might wind up in federal prison for engaging in standard political behavior? The Siegelman case already has had a chilling effect here in Alabama. Many statewide offices no longer attract a serious Democratic candidate. If political prosecutions are allowed to stand, look for that trend to spread to other states.

    Meanwhile, Debra J. Saunders calls Eric Holder "President Obama's worst appointment"--and we certainly agree with that assessment. From the Saunders piece:

    Attorney General Eric Holder is President Obama’s worst appointment. Holder started out with baggage — the Clinton pardons of Marc Rich and unrepentant Puerto Rican terrorists. With the media leak investigations, he is carrying more baggage. And Holder’s load is likely to become heavier. 
    Debra J. Saunders
    Nonetheless, the president told reporters last week, Holder has Obama's full support. 
    Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., questioned Holder about the pardon process as he urged the AG to consider pardoning former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Roger Shuler of the Legal Schnauzer blog reports on the issue here. There’s some political risk in pushing for a pardon for a fellow politician, but Cohen has bipartisan cover. And the exchange shows the pressure that will be brought to bear on the president as he is about to leave office. 
    Will Obama decide he wants to commute and pardon politically-connected offenders? Or will he continue to use this presidential power sparingly?

    Saunders explores those issues in a piece titled "Obama Is Stingy With His Pardons." It's important reading for all of us who have closely followed the Don Siegelman saga.

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    Karl Rove
    The IRS and its targeting of conservative groups has captured the nation's attention in recent days. But a more important IRS-related story might be flying under the radar.

    A series of articles at the public-interest journalism site ProPublica raise questions about whether six "dark money" political groups, all conservative, committed criminal acts in seeking tax-exempt status from the IRS. Among the groups is Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS.

    ProPublica published articles in December and January that raised questions about the process political organizations use to seek tax-exempt status as "social welfare" groups.  The issue did not gain major public traction until the IRS acknowledged on May 10 that it targeted tea-party groups to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

    The resulting storm of national attention obscures a more important issue, according to a report yesterday from Richard Tofel, president of ProPublica. Writes Tofel:

    Largely ignored in a public outcry last week—radio rants, Twitter storms, congressional, presidential and prosecutorial posturing--were the following:

    Our pieces in December and January raised very serious questions about whether six different “dark money” political groups seeking tax exemption had made false statements on their applications. Those applications are signed under penalty of perjury. If any false statements were made knowingly, the groups— including Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS —may have committed a crime. There is no indication, however, that either the IRS or the Department of Justice has done anything since January to investigate whether such crimes were indeed committed. The groups in question happen all to be conservative. Not one congressional Republican has, to my knowledge, expressed any concern about this possible criminality.

    Gee, Karl Rove involved in criminal activity? Those of us who live in Alabama and have followed the political prosecution of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman, which almost certainly was orchestrated by Rove while serving in the Bush White House, cannot imagine that.

    ProPublica's December article, titled "Karl Rove's Dark Money Group Promised IRS It Would Spent 'Limited" Money On Elections," is particularly illuminating. From that article by reporter Kim Barker:

    In a confidential 2010 filing, Crossroads GPS—the dark money group that spent more than $70 million from anonymous donors on the 2012 election—told the Internal Revenue Service that its efforts would focus on public education, research and shaping legislation and policy.

    The group's application for recognition as a social welfare nonprofit acknowledged that it would spend money to influence elections, but said "any such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization's primary purpose."

    So $70 million represents "limited" spending for Crossroads GPS? One can only imagine how much the group would have spent if it had not felt so constrained. From Barker's article:

    The tax code allows groups like Crossroads to spend money on political campaigns—and to keep their donors private—as long as their primary purpose is enhancing social welfare.

    Crossroads' breakdown of planned activities said it would focus half its efforts on "public education," 30 percent on "activity to influence legislation and policymaking" and 20 percent on "research," including sponsoring "in-depth policy research on significant issues."

    This seems at odds with much of what the group has done since filing the application, experts said. Within two months of filing its application, Crossroads spent about $15.5 million on ads telling people to vote against Democrats or for Republicans in the 2010 midterm elections.

    "That statement of proposed activities does not seem to align with what they actually did, which was to raise and spend hundreds of millions to influence candidate elections," said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, who reviewed the group's application at ProPublica's request.

    In other words, someone at Crossroads GPS probably lied to the IRS, under penalty of perjury, about the group's purposes. And that, Richard Tofel writes, would constitute a crime.

    Does Tofel expect Rove or his associates to be held accountable? It doesn't sound like it. The ProPublica chief seems to think most officials--amid calls for investigations in the wake of this month's revelations--are not serious about IRS issues:

    And what of the investigators? Congressional committees leapt into action. The inspector general for the IRS had apparently already investigated. The President demanded another investigation; the Department of Justice said it had commenced a criminal inquiry.

    Knowing that such is the way in Washington, we waited at ProPublica for someone to send us a subpoena, show up on our doorstep, or maybe just call. Nothing. Nothing since December 13, when we told the IRS we had these documents they weren’t supposed to have sent us—or since the next day, when we published that fact. Nothing before the inspector general reached his conclusion, nothing before the congressional hearings started televising their demands for answers and their righteous indignation, nothing since.

    In point of fact, the investigators would have found out that we have nothing of value to them. But the fact that they didn’t even ask tells you a lot. And it reinforces the point that much of the heat generated last week on this subject is just the latest expression of Washington cynicism and its consequences—that the talk show hosts and their fellow travelers, and the representatives and senators and officials in the executive branch, aren’t really looking for answers here. They’re just putting on a show.

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    A miniature schnauzer climbs from
    the rubble in Oklahoma City.
    When we started this blog in June 2007, the title was meant to honor Murphy Abigail Shuler, a wonderful miniature schnauzer who enriched our lives for 11 years--and helped us survive the early years of our legal woes.

    The idea was to celebrate Murphy's good heart, her keen curiosity, her feisty spirit. We had first-hand evidence of a schnauzer's remarkable spirit because Murphy filled our home with it throughout her life. But the world got an up-close look yesterday at a schnauzer's fighting spirit--thanks to a news video that might go down as the most touching moment ever captured in the YouTube era.

    A reporter for CBS was interviewing tornado survivor Barbara Garcia amid the rubble of what had been her home and neighborhood. Ms. Garcia was describing how she had been holding her dog when the storm hit and chaos ensued, with seemingly everything that she had treasured gone. Ms. Garcia said she had called for her dog but he didn't come. "I know he's in here somewhere," she said, pointing to wreckage where there was no sign of life.

    What happens next, starting at the :24 mark on the video, still takes my breath away--and fills my eyes with tears, even though I've watched it multiple times.

    I can't tell if the dog is a pure-breed schnauzer or a schnauzer mix. But with the blunt muzzle and distinctive beard . . . well, there is no doubt this little survivor has deep schnauzer roots. And that indomitable spirit . . . I would recognize that anywhere.

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    Dorothea Batiste
    The Alabama Supreme Court should take over the case against Jefferson County Judge Dorothea Batiste, in part, because the state's judicial inquiry commission has repeatedly violated its own rules in launching an investigation.

    That is at the heart of a petition from Batiste attorney Julian McPhillips, asking the state's high court to take jurisdiction and issue a restraining order against the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (AJIC) and its Court of the Judiciary. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of the petition and Batiste's response at the end of this post.)

    In a letter accompanying the petition, McPhillips notes that complaints largely have come from former Jefferson County presiding judge Scott Vowell and not from litigants or parties who appeared before Judge Batiste. "To allow complaints stimulated by a third party such as Vowell . . . ," McPhillips writes, "violates the Code of Alabama's grant of authority to the AJIC."

    McPhillips goes on to state:

    This case has morphed into an abuse of process, because the AJIC has allowed itself to be transformed into a Super Appellate Court of Alabama to review decisions of Judge Batiste, even when the litigants are not complaining. 
    It is also obvious that Scott Vowell has developed a runaway ego, in which he is power-tripping by trying to show Judge Batiste that he is more powerful than she, and that, by golly, if he complains, he's going to make the complaint stick.

    How did the AJIC violate its own rules? McPhillips points to two primary issues. 

    First, the main charge against Batiste is that she abused her discretionary contempt power against parties and witnesses who failed to appear in court. The commission's handbook for judges, McPhillips states, includes the following language:

    The Commission . . . does not review . . . abuse of judicial discretion during a court proceeding absent evidence of bad faith. 

    That seems clear-cut, but McPhillips says the commission does not seem to be familiar with its own handbook:

    Nowhere in the 38-page AJIC complaint with 23 pages of exhibits is there any allegation that Judge Batiste engaged in bad faith, notwithstanding that the 147-paragraph complaint basically alleges abuses of discretion by Batiste in the use of her contempt power.

    McPhillips then points to AJIC Rule 6 (concerning "Investigations"), which states:

    Investigations may be instituted by the Commission only upon a verified complaint filed either by a member of the public or by a member of the commission . . .

    Is the commission following its own rule. McPhillips says it's not even close:

    Almost all of the complaints Scott Vowell has forwarded to the AJIC contain an unverified typed letter in which Judge Vowell purports to pass on complaints of unhappy litigants, which complaints are mostly also unverified. Many of these complaints do not reflect the subject matter of the complaint, or whether it was a litigant or attorney who was unhappy. These complaints are essentially anonymous, contrary to AJIC rules.
    Scott Vowell
    McPhillips questions the AJIC's motives in the Batiste case, noting that Vowell apparently enjoys cozy relationships with several commission members, including Judge Randall Cole, Judge/Chairman P. Ben McLauchlin Sr., and Attorney Amanda Dowd. Then McPhillips notes the absurd nature of some charges in the Batiste complaint. Much of this would be comical--if the charges were not so serious:

    The AJIC has . . .  allowed former Jefferson County presiding Circuit Judge Scott Vowell to further abuse the process of the AJIC by stirring up litigants, witnesses, and attorneys, unhappy with Judge Batiste's divorce court rulings, through encouraging them, or assisting them, in filing multiple complaints against Ms. Batiste. Many of said complaints are frivolous or nonsensical. Some even involved two attorneys long since dead, namely Rusty Wright and Chris Christ. Indeed, one such frivolous complaint even involved a litigant supposedly unhappy with a continuation of the misspelling by Judge Batiste's office of the litigant's name, notwithstanding that the original misspelling began with the litigant's attorney. Reflecting his bad faith, Judge Vowell even encouraged this complaint.

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    Sarah Rollins (right), with her
     sister, Emma, and father, Ted
    Patriarchs in the wealthy Rollins family, from their primary bases in Georgia and Delaware, have a history of taking questionable actions with trust funds. In fact, that issue is about to become part of our coverage on the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case here in Alabama.

    A recent appellate-court ruling in Atlanta means a Georgia jury soon might hear details about billionaires Gary and Randall Rollins and their curious management of family trust accounts. Here is how we summed up the issues in that case:

    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.

    A similar case might someday unfold here in Alabama. Birmingham resident Sherry Rollins says she has seen evidence that her daughter, Sarah Rollins, has a trust fund that was established by her grandfather, John W. Rollins Sr.  But Sarah Rollins, who now is 19 years old, knows almost nothing about the fund. Laws in most states hold that an 18-year-old is considered an adult and is entitled to know about provisions of a trust fund.

    But Ted Rollins--who is John Rollins' son, Sarah's father, and Sherry's ex husband--does not seem to be interested in following such laws. In fact, Sherry Rollins reports, he has taken extraordinary steps to keep his daughter's trust fund under wraps. (Note: Ted and Sherry Rollins have a second daughter, Emma, who now is 15 and lives with her mother in Birmingham. It is not clear if Emma has a trust fund. Emma was about 2 years old when John Rollins Sr. died in April 2000, and he had been seriously ill for most the time between her birth and his death. It is unknown if he was able to establish a trust fund in Emma Rollins' name.)

    Why would Ted Rollins be secretive about his daughter's trust fund? As CEO of Campus Crest Communities, Rollins has seen his company receive more than $730 million in Wall Street investment funds. You might think that the chairman of a publicly traded company would be used to a certain amount of transparency regarding financial matters. But Ted Rollins seems to be anything but transparent when it comes to his daughter's trust fund.

    Allegations in the pending Georgia lawsuit hint that Randall and Gary Rollins, Ted's cousins,  have used family trust funds for their own benefit, committing serious breaches of fiduciary duty. Is Ted Rollins, perhaps with the help of family accounting gurus, doing the same thing to Sarah Rollins?

    We will examine that question in a series of upcoming posts. But first, let's look at information that points to the existence of a Sarah Rollins trust fund. It surfaced when Sherry and Ted Rollins still were married and living in Greenville, South Carolina. Here is how Sherry Rollins described her "Aha moment" in an e-mail to Legal Schnauzer:

    When I lived in Greenville, S.C., I practiced Spanish so that I could converse with the Hispanic women who cleaned Ted's office, on the top floor of the First Union Building. He was just starting St. James Capital and had formed a partnership with Randall Rollins and his dad [John Rollins Sr.], where Ted would purchase various real estate around the country and develop it. He had just purchased the Crescent Center in Greenville, S.C., for St. James Capital. He later moved his offices to the Crescent Center. 
    He was out of town that week; I left the girls with the maid, and went in the early evening to his office. I walked past the guard, and he told me to sign in. I signed in. I went to the top floor to Ted's office. I spoke to the maids and told them that I had to do some work on the computer and that I was Ted's wife. 
    I went to his secretary's desk. I sat down and found a yellow legal pad with a list of all his files written in it. 
    One thing on the page caught my eye: Sarah's Trust Fund; it listed where it could be found on the computer.

    That wasn't the only intriguing information Sherry Rollins uncovered on that trip to her husband's office. And on a subsequent trip, a scene right out of a John Grisham movie unfolded before her eyes.

    (To be continued)

    Previously in the series:

    New Court Ruling Might Force Wealthy Rollins Clan To Allow Light Into Some Dark Financial Corners (April, 23, 2013)

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    Luther Strange and
     Jessica Medeiros Garrison 
    Luther Strange paid almost $19,000 to a former campaign aide after he lost the 2006 lieutenant governor's race in Alabama. The payments appear to mirror those that Strange, as attorney general, now claims constitute a crime by former state senator Lowell Barron and his former campaign aide.

    Strange's payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison coincide with her pregnancy and the birth of her child in early 2007. (See Luther Strange 2006 Campaign Expenditures, Part I and Part II, at the end of this post.)

    The indictment against Barron indicates the attorney general's office built its case against Lowell Barron on three theories related to Alabama's campaign-finance and ethics law: (1) Barron made the payments to Rhonda Jill Johnson after a losing campaign in 2010; (2) Barron, therefore, could not claim the payments were reasonably related to performance of his official duties; (3) The payments were personal in nature.

    Public records show the attorney general himself made payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison after a losing campaign in 2006. That means the payments could not have been "reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held," and therefore must have been personal in nature.

    Did Luther Strange commit the very "crime" in 2006 that he now alleges against Lowell Barron from the 2010 campaign? The answer appears to be yes--and the Strange payments appear to involve a level of deception, and possible personal motivations, that are not present in the Barron payments.

    Strange lost the 2006 lieutenant governor's race to Democrat Jim Folsom on November 7, 2006. Campaign-finance reports show the following post-election payments connected to the losing campaign. (See Luther Strange Campaign Expenditures, Part I, at the end of this post.):

    * 11/9/06--$17,500 to Alabama Politics, Inc. (consulting) 

    * 11/10/06--$1,325.57 to Jessica Medeiros Garrison (food/lodging/transportation) 

    * 11/27/06--$100.24 to Jessica Medeiros Garrison (advertising)

    The first payment stands out, both because of the amount and to whom it was paid. Alabama Politics, Inc. is based in Tuscaloosa and owned by Jessica Medeiros Garrison. Records from the Alabama Secretary of State show the company was formed on November 21, 2006, even though the Luther Strange campaign already had made a hefty payment to it on November 9, 2006.

    Secretary of State records also show that the firm's name was changed to MDM 27 Holdings Inc. on November 27, 2007, and Garrison became Strange's campaign manager in the 2010 run for attorney general.

    As we reported on May 8, the Strange campaign 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.

    The indictment against Barron stresses the fact that a number of his payments to Johnson were for "administrative" duties. But records show that Strange made 15 "administrative" expenditures to MDM 27 Holdings Inc. in roughly the same time period as the Barron payments. 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.

    Were the 2006 payments to Jessica Medeiros Garrison and her company personal in nature? Well, she was pregnant at the time the payments were made--and she gave birth to Michael Lee Garrison on March 27, 2007.

    (To be continued)

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    Robert Vance Jr.
    An Alabama judge is violating state laws that limit his ability to hear cases involving major campaign contributors, according to a pending federal lawsuit.

    Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. is hearing a state case, even though lawyers on one side are from a firm that contributed at least $3,600 to Vance's most recent campaign. The donations, from the Birmingham firm Maynard Cooper & Gale (MCG), exceed the $2,000 threshold set by Alabama law and require Vance's recusal, according to the federal complaint.

    Vance has refused to step aside in the underlying state case, styled William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. v. Steven Mark Hayden, et al(Case No. CV-2012-209), and issued four favorable rulings to MCG's clients. That prompted a federal lawsuit alleging that Vance acted without jurisdiction and outside his judicial capacity, causing substantial damages to a trust that was formed in Nevada.

    Plaintiffs in the federal case, styled William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust and Steven Mark Hayden v. Robert S. Vance Jr., 2:13-CV-0286-SLB, seek $25 million in damages. They claim Vance issued a temporary restraining order and other extra-judicial orders that prevented them from nurturing the trust's principal. "The Trust suffered the loss of considerable investment returns and interest," the complaint states. "The Trust also was deprived of assets valued at more than $20,000,000.00." (See the federal complaint at the end of this post.)

    Austin Burdick, a Bessemer attorney who represents the trust, says Code of Alabama 12-24-1 et seq, requires Vance's recusal. Burdick filed a Motion for Recusal in the state case on January 9, 2013, but Vance refused to step down. Burdick sought a writ of mandamus forcing Vance to recuse, but the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the petition without accepting briefs.

    That led to the federal lawsuit, and Burdick makes a powerful case that Vance acted outside his official capacity--and violated state law regarding judicial-campaign contributions in the process. From pages 10-11 of the federal complaint:

    At a later hearing, Judge Vance also announced that he was not bound by any statutory provision which limits a judge's ability to receive campaign contributions. . . . It is believed he was referring to Ala. Code 1975, Sec. 12-24-2, which limits campaign contributions to not more than $2,000.00 from any law firm to any circuit judge. If this threshold amount is exceeded, then the judge is disqualified from hearing the case. . . . The law itself indicates that disqualification is required because an appearance of impropriety exists when a judge takes substantial campaign contributions from litigants or counsel. And it is the appearance of impropriety that necessitates the judge's recusal.

    Public records make it clear that Maynard Cooper & Gale lawyers have provided financial support to Vance's campaigns, and the firm represents William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. in the underlying state case. Burdick provides the details:

    A review of the records provided to the Alabama Secretary of State indicate that the lawyers at the firm representing Cashion contributed at least $3,600.00 to Judge Vance's most recent campaign while Cashion's case was pending. . . . There may have been other contributions from Maynard through PACs, however, Vance has refused to disclose that information.

    Does it sound like Robert Vance Jr. is an impartial arbiter in cases involving the Maynard firm? Consider this from the federal complaint:

    At [a] November hearing, Vance . . . disclosed that he had previously been involved in a controversy wherein he received excessive campaign contributions from Maynard.

    What kind of excuse does Vance present? It's pretty lame, according to Burdick's complaint:

    Judge Vance justified his disregard for the aforementioned statutes by saying that the issue was never addressed by the Alabama Supreme Court when a Petition for Writ of Mandamus was filed in another case. . . .  
    However, Judge Vance's disregard for law was never vindicated as it was never addressed. . . . Judge Vance has sought to justify his conduct by claiming that the aforementioned statute has never been enforced. However, the law reflects a public policy concern that pursuant to the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics a judge must recuse if there is an appearance of impropriety. Accepting such donations during the case presents the appearance of impropriety. The Canons of Judicial Ethics have been enforced, and regardless of the application of the above-referenced statutes, Vance has an obligation to recuse if there is evidence to show an appearance of impropriety. $3,600.00 in campaign contributions is evidence of impropriety and requires recusal. However, Judge Vance has ignored his obligation and persisted in a course of action that continues to deprive Plaintiffs of due process.

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    Former Illinois judge Michael Cook
    Alabama, it turns out, is not the only state where corrupt judges and lawyers gather at hunting clubs to commit unsavory acts.

    It also happens in western Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Missouri. And we know, from an unfolding story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that the ugliness in the Midwest involves cocaine, heroin, firearms . . . and, well, it makes Alabama sound tame.

    At least three federal lawsuits have been filed here in Alabama, alleging that judges and lawyers gather at hunting clubs to fix divorce cases in Jefferson County. All three cases were dismissed under questionable circumstances, with no discovery, suggesting the federal judiciary actively is engaged in a cover up. That makes sense when you consider that U.S. District Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn (Northern District of Alabama) is one of the apparent beneficiaries of hunting-club corruption

    Ugly stuff ensues when folks with law degrees gather in the Alabama woods. But it might be even uglier on the Illinois/Missouri border. Consider this report out of Belleville, Illinois, from St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Robert Patrick: 

    A courthouse drug scandal expanded Friday with charges alleging that a St. Clair County probation worker used cocaine repeatedly with two judges and provided the dose that killed one of them. 
    James K. Fogarty, of the probation office’s investigative unit, told officials he bought cocaine and re-sold it to Associate Judge Joseph Christ and Circuit Judge Michael N. Cook the day before the two went to a hunting lodge where Christ died March 10. 
    Fogarty, 45, was charged in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis with distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. He was held pending another hearing. 
    Earlier Friday, Cook, 43, appeared in the same courthouse to answer charges of being an unlawful user of a controlled substance in possession of a firearm, and a misdemeanor charge of possession of heroin.

    One judge dies from a cocaine overdose, and another is arrested for illegally possessing heroin and a firearm? Gee, how bad would their behavior be if they had not taken a solemn oath to uphold the law?

    And it gets worse. Judge Cook was arrested at the home of a known drug dealer:

    The charges capped a frenetic two-day period in which Cook was arrested Wednesday at the home in Belleville of Sean D. McGilvery, a friend now accused of running a busy heroin shuttle from Chicago. 
    The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies searched McGilvery’s house plus Cook’s chambers in the courthouse in Belleville, home in the same city, and family hunting lodge in Pike County, Ill., where Christ died. 
    McGilvery, 34, was charged late Thursday with conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute, heroin. The charges claim he sold more than a kilogram.

    An ongoing federal investigation extends well beyond Belleville, Illinois. Cook resigned from his judicial post yesterday. This is from an article Tuesday by Post-Dispatch reporter Paul Hampel:

    The investigation into a drug scandal involving a St. Clair County judge, another who died of a cocaine overdose and a county probation worker charged with providing them with drugs, is far-reaching, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.

    “This is a wide-open investigation and is not limited in scope to the St. Clair County courthouse,” U.S. Attorney Stephen Wigginton said after a hearing for accused probation officer James K. Fogarty at U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.

    Wigginton did not elaborate, other than to say the investigation was “fast-moving and dynamic.”

    “We have a number of leads we are tracking down,” Wigginton said.

    The feds might want to follow some leads into the Alabama hunting-club scene. God only knows what they would find there.

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    Ted Rollins and partner Mike Hartnett
    at the New York Stock Exchang
    Wives throughout the ages have turned to various investigative tactics when confronted with the possibility that their husbands are cheating.

    Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins was one such wife in the 1990s when she was married to Ted Rollins and living in Greenville, South Carolina. Ms. Rollins decided that a visit to her husband's office while he was away on business might yield some interesting information. She was right about that--on multiple fronts.

    Ted Rollins now is CEO of Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte-based company that builds student housing near public universities around the country. The firm has drawn more than $730 million in Wall Street investment since going public in late 2010. Rollins' primary market might be college students and their parents, but his own "family values" leave something to be desired.

    We already have reported that Ms. Rollins' first trip to the office turned up information about a trust fund for her daughter, Sarah, who now is 19 years old and still knows almost nothing about the fund that her grandfather (and Ted's father), John W. Rollins Sr., established.

    Sherry Rollins found limited information on the trust fund that day--but she came away knowing it existed. Here is how she described her findings in an e-mail to Legal Schnauzer:

    I went to his secretary's desk. I sat down and found a yellow legal pad with a list of all his files written in it. 
    One thing on the page caught my eye: Sarah's Trust Fund; it listed where it could be found on the computer. 
    I went into [the secretary's] list of files and saw that the file existed. I was not computer literate at that time and could not open up the file.

    Perhaps more significant at the time were Sherry Rollins' findings about her husband's apparent extramarital activities. She saw written documents that pointed to multiple affairs, and infidelity would be one of the grounds in the divorce complaint she filed in 2001.

    As we reported previously, Sherry Carroll was perhaps the only individual in recent years to marry into the Rollins family without an ironclad prenuptial agreement. Ted Rollins was willing to marry her without a prenup and form a family with her two sons, Eric and Zac Parrish (ages 16 and 10 at the time), from a previous marriage. The couple would have two daughters of their own--Sarah (19) and Emma (15).

    When the lack of a prenup is considered with Ted Rollins' apparent marital misconduct, he stood to cough up substantial sums of money in a legitimate divorce case. That perhaps is the No. 1 reason he apparently used family contacts to help concoct an illegitimate divorce case--getting the South Carolina divorce complaint that Sherry Rollins had filed unlawfully moved to Alabama, where Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson issued such a one-sided decree that it has left Ms. Rollins and her daughters on and off food stamps.

    What exactly did Sherry Rollins learn about her husband's extramarital activities while visiting his office? She never has pieced it all together in a precise way. But some information pointed to a woman named Holly Matheson, who worked for the Upstate Alliance in South Carolina; she now is the third Mrs. Ted Rollins. Other information pointed to a woman who worked at Emory University, the recipient of major Rollins-family philanthropy

    Here is how Sherry Rollins described her findings in an e-mail to us:

    Then another item caught my nervous eye; it was the phone message book. . . . The book contained call after call from Cary Sheahan, a girl who worked in the office of the director of executive health care at Emory. She was the go-to person for every Rollins family member who needed anything at Emory. Every year each one of them checks in for a full physical and stay in the John W. Rollins wing of the hospital to be checked out fully and completely. [Ted] was dating Cary, it appeared from her messages and the numerous calls to him. She left messages with his secretary about how excited she was to be meeting him and where. There were messages from me mixed in with the girlfriends' messages. I have often wondered if [Cary Sheahan] was a code name used by Holly Rollins or if he was dating Cary and Holly at the same time. 

    Did Ted Rollins appreciate his wife's investigative skills? Not exactly. From Sherry Rollins:

    I have often mentioned the trust fund to Ted and asked questions about it after finding the yellow legal pad with his list of files. I tore out the page with the list of files and kept it for a long time. I confronted him with it and he refused to discuss it.

    Why would Ted Rollins refuse to discuss a trust fund that was established for his oldest daughter? We don't have an answer to that question, but we do have this addendum from Sherry Rollins, regarding another woman who apparently was close to Ted Rollins on a number of levels:

    The person who would definitely know about the Trust Fund would be Teri McGinn, who lives in Taylors, South Carolina, near Greenville, and was his assistant for years and often talked with his father and Linda Prickett (Ted's mother). [Teri McGinn] would know all about it, as he slept with her, too. 
    She works for the Golden Strip Child Center in Greenville, the organization which was set up by the Duke Endowment monies to Furman University and to Greenville for the prevention of child abuse while I was living there. Interesting that that this is where she works.
    I suggest you interview her on all things Rollins. She was his other hand, she was his muse, she was his everything for most of the time we were in Greenville, South Carolina. She was his stand-in mother while I was having Emma and getting back to normal and I didn't have the time to constantly serve him. She will KNOW all about the trust fund and where it is.

    (To be continued)

    Previously in the series:

    New Court Ruling Might Force Wealthy Rollins Clan To Allow Light Into Some Dark Financial Corners (April, 23, 2013)

    Why Would Wall Street CEO Ted Rollins Take Steps To Keep His Daughter's Trust Fund Under Wraps? (May 28, 2013)

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    Johnny Ford
    Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed an executive order on his first full day in office that violated the rights of voters in majority-black Macon County.

    That is the primary claim in a federal lawsuit that states Bentley and Attorney General Luther Strange were part of a white, Republican effort to heap "economic devastation" on Macon County residents by unlawfully closing the VictoryLand casino.

    How is this for irony? The Macon County lawsuit is unfolding as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling any day in Shelby County v. Holder, a case that originated in Alabama and challenges Section 5 of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

    As for the case in Macon County, lawyers for Bentley and Strange have filed Motions to Dismiss, characterizing the lawsuit as "frivolous," "baseless," and "insulting." They also claim the Voting Rights Act does not apply to facts alleged in the complaint. (See Strange and Bentley motions at the end of this post.)

    But Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other Macon County plaintiffs argue in a response that Bentley's executive order, appointing Strange to enforce gambling laws in all 67 counties, effectively usurped the authority of the Macon County sheriff. In approving Constitutional Amendment 744, plaintiffs state, voters authorized the sheriff "to promulgate and enforce the rules and regulations related to bingo in Macon County." (See plaintiffs' response to motions to dismiss at the end of this post.)

    The actions of Bentley and Strange amount to an "abolition of an elective office" that is covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, per a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491 (1992), writes Massachusetts-based plaintiffs' lawyer Donald LaRoche.

    Plaintiffs also raise civil-rights claims of purposeful discrimination and fundamental unfairness. But given the Deep South's ugly history of obstructing minorities at the ballot box, voting-rights claims likely will resonate loudly with the public--especially with the nation's high court about to issue a major opinion on a voting-rights case that originated here in Alabama. Writes attorney LaRoche for the Macon County plaintiffs:

    Where the Alabama State Courts have repeatedly served as a rubber stamp to the recalcitrant majority officials and have ignored federal requirements, the plaintiffs' only recourse is to seek refuge in federal court and pray for an equitable relief. The defendants now move this Court to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint in yet another attempt to deny Black Americans the enjoyment of their right to participate in the voting process and experience the sustainability of their choice. 
    The defendants fasten their discriminatory stratagem to a feeble distinction between bingo and electronic bingo, declaring the latter to be criminal without the benefit of legislation or final judicial determination. This impuissant attempt to argue that the electronic form of bingo is criminal and any use of these devices is a violation of the gambling laws of Alabama is simply another clandestine attempt to suppress and nullify the lawful passage of Amendment 744 and deflate the voting power of the people of Macon County. 

    At the heart of the controversy is a memorandum that Strange issued in May 2011, claiming Bentley's executive order gave the attorney general's office authority to determine what games amount to legal bingo in Alabama. Plaintiffs, however, state that Strange's memorandum is at odds with the Alabama Constitution, as outlined in Amendment 744. Writes LaRoche:

    The Sheriff of Macon County, under his constitutional authority, approved the use of electronic bingo games. While the Attorney General may be authorized to 'enforce' the gambling laws in Alabama, as he is all other laws, the Alabama Constitution says that only the Sheriff of Macon County can devise regulations for the conduct and operation of bingo within Macon County. There are no general laws in Alabama which relate to bingo because it can only be authorized in a particular county by constitutional amendment. When Defendant Strange decided what bingo must be and issued his May 2011 memorandum, he usurped the authority which had been vested solely in the Macon County Sheriff. So while General Strange may have the authority to 'enforce' bingo regulations or general criminal laws, he does not have the authority to 'create' or 'promulgate' the rules anymore than he has the authority to 'create' or 'promulgate' general criminal laws (such authority being vested in the legislature).

    All sides seem to agree that the U.S. Supreme Court's finding in Presley is central to the current dispute. All sides also reference Bunton v. Patterson, 393 U.S. 544 (1969), which was one of four cases--three from Mississippi, one from Virginia--that were consolidated on appeal. 

    The sides disagree how Presley and Bunton should apply to the situation unfolding in Macon County. The key question appears to be this: Do the actions of Bentley and Strange "rise to the level of a de facto replacement of an elective office with an appointive one"? Plaintiffs answer that question in the affirmative:

    Defendant Bentley's Executive Order No. 1, repealing former Governor [Bob] Riley's Executive Order No. 44 and essentially appointing Defendant Strange as the new "anti-gambling czar," was clearly a usurpation of the authority constitutionally given to the Macon County Sheriff, as related to bingo rules and regulations. This action constituted changes affecting voting, and as such, was subjected to the preclearance requirement pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

    On the surface, Presley might not bode well for the Macon County plaintiffs. After all, the nation's high court found that the Voting Rights Act did not cover the facts in that case. But LaRoche makes a powerful argument that alleged wrongdoing in Macon County goes way beyond that found in Presley:

    The Governor's executive order appointed the Attorney General, who in turn, replaced the officer designated by the constitutional amendments. This diminished the authority of the official whom the electorates of Macon County voted for by de facto replacing the elected office they solely entrusted with the promulgation and regulation of bingo rules by constitutional amendment with an appointed office. This goes way beyond merely changing the internal operations of an elected body, such as the Etowah County Commission in Presley.

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    Don Felder
    Guitarist Don Felder, who wrote the music for "Hotel California," was ejected from the Eagles in 2001 in the fallout of a contract he signed under duress.

    Clanton, Alabama, resident Bonnie Cahalane was unlawfully incarcerated for almost five months at the Chilton County Jail--known to locals as "The Chilton Hilton"--and since has been forced out of her home. The house now is up for sale, all because of an agreement she reached under duress in Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds' courtroom.

    The Felder episode is one of the key story lines in History of the Eagles: The Story of American Band, a three-hour film that has been running on Showtime since February and now is available on DVD. Produced by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney, History of the Eagles probably will be one of the most watched documentaries of 2013.

    At the heart of the film is a 40-year journey of an iconic band, the group that came to define the Southern California sound of the 1970s. But tucked between tales about the birth of classic songs--and numerous internal squabbles--are insights about this important legal concept: A contract that is reached under duress is void. (For Alabama law on the subject, see Claybrook v. Claybrook, Ala., Civ. App., 2010.)

    Felder sued band leaders Glenn Frey and Don Henley, seeking more than $50 million in past earnings and potentially lost income. The case ultimately was settled, and Felder must have received some measure of justice because his net worth is estimated at $60 million.

    Will Bonnie Cahalane achieve justice? If the rule of law still means anything in Alabama, she will. That's because the so-called agreement to sell her house was reached while she was in prison clothes and under threat of returning to "The Chilton Hilton" if she didn't cave in.

    Don Felder forever will be known as the guy who gave birth to "Hotel California," which is the Eagles' signature tune and ranks No. 49 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time." But Felder, through years of turmoil and courtroom unpleasantness, has taught us that contracts reached under duress are void and cannot be enforced.

    How did Felder's legal saga unfold. The roots of it were planted when he was invited to play slide guitar for two songs ("Already Gone" and "Good Day in Hell") as a "late arrival" on the band's third album, 1974's On the Border. Felder's role was to toughen up the band's sound and help them transition from a country-rock band to an edgier rock band.

    Felder filled that mission so well that he was invited to become a full band member for 1975's One of These Nights, which went quadruple platinum and became by far the band's biggest selling album at that point. Felder joined founding members Frey, Henley, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner as equal partners in the band's business affairs.

    That "five equal partners" concept started to fray when Leadon left the band in 1975. His replacement, Joe Walsh, was hired as a band member, but he was not a partner in its business entity, Eagles Ltd.

    Felder's songwriting and guitar work were central to the seminal Hotel California album in 1976, with the disc going 16 times platinum and becoming one of the most beloved and influential LPs of all time. Another founding member, Randy Meisner, left after that album--and his replacement, Timothy B. Schmit, was hired under terms similar to those for Walsh.

    That left only three partners in Eagles Ltd, and the band broke up in 1980 following tension-filled sessions for 1979's The Long Run.

    Frey has called the breakup a "14-year vacation," and during the split, he and Henley had the most successful solo careers of any band members. When the Eagles reconvened in 1994, Frey decided that it should be on terms that were favorable to the two partners who had become the best-known lead singers and songwriters. Frey and Henley were to become "the Gods" of the band, while Felder was to accept a substantially smaller piece of the pie.

    Bonnie Cahalane
    Perhaps the most dramatic moment in History of the Eagles comes when Frey describes placing a phone call to Felder's representative and saying, in so many words, "If your client doesn't agree to the new contract by sundown, he's out of the band . . . click."

    Felder wound up signing the re-arranged deal, but it clearly was done under duress--and, under the law, such a contract is no contract at all. As Felder continued to question Frey, Henley and manager Irving Azoff about the group's finances, he finally was forced out of the band. 

    Lawsuits and countersuits began to fly, and Yahoo! News' Bruce Simon described the issues in a 2006 article:

    Felder, who says he was an equal partner and shareholder in Eagles, Ltd., claims that Henley and Frey began abusing him in 1994 on the Hell Freezes Over tour, when new business entities were formed that gave Henley and Frey a majority position. When he protested, Felder was told to "take it or leave it" and was threatened with firing.

    Felder further alleges that several of the group's business dealings in the past 10 years have been compromised by outside interests. Among other things, he says the Hell Freezes Over album was placed with Geffen Records to help satisfy Henley's legal battles with the label; that Azoff and Peter Lopez, Frey's personal attorney, were paid to act as tour promoters, rather than having independent promoters bid on the project; and that the merchandising licensing fee for the Hell Freezes Over tour was "substantially below the market price."

    The suit goes on to say that "the greed of Henley and Frey became more insatiable with each new project." They formed yet another company to handle the business dealings related to the Eagles boxed set Selected Works: 1972-1999, and that this new company totally excluded Felder, Walsh, and Schmit from an ownership stake. When Felder once again complained, he was sent a letter by Azoff that said he was out of the Eagles, which led him to sign the papers under duress.

    Here is how Jeff Leeds, of the Los Angeles Times,described the case in 2002:

    Felder's lawsuit accuses Henley and Frey of bullying him into "one-sided" agreements divvying up band profits, withholding financial information and firing him without cause. . . .

    The lawsuit, filed last year in Los Angeles County Superior Court, seeks past earnings and potentially lost income totaling more than $50 million. Felder is seeking to dissolve Eagles Ltd., the corporation that holds rights to the band's name, some unreleased recordings and other property.

    I've been a fan of Don Henley and Glenn Frey for 40-plus years and have enormous respect for their status as one of the great songwriting teams of the modern era. But their treatment of Don Felder reveals them to be pretty sorry human beings. Felder should still be in the Eagles, but short of that, it's an encouraging sign that Frey and Henley had to pay substantial sums for their abusive actions.

    Speaking of sorry individuals, that brings us back to Chilton County Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds. He might be protected by judicial immunity, but his associates who have helped bully Bonnie Cahalane could wind up facing serious civil liability. And if Reynolds is found to have gone beyond his judicial capacity to engage in a conspiracy to deprive Ms. Cahalane of her civil rights . . . well, the good judge might find his own wallet to be considerably lighter.

    Don Felder has proven that you can successfully fight back against bullies in court. Let's hope Bonnie Cahalane drives home the same lesson.

    Previously in the series:

    From "Hotel California" to "The Chilton Hilton," Bonnie Cahalane and Don Felder Share Legal Woes (May 21, 2013)

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    Pearl River Resort
    An FBI investigation that started in July 2011 at Mississippi Choctaw casinos is ongoing, according to a credit-rating report issued last month.

    Meanwhile, the chief financial officer (CFO) at Pearl River Resort is resigning this month. (See letter announcing resignation, at the end of this post.) Ryan Eller, who previously worked for Alabama's Poarch Band of Creek Indians, had been on the job less than nine months. (See press release about his appointment, at end of this post.)

    Chief Phyliss J. Anderson has not kept tribal members updated on either development, a source tells Legal Schnauzer. In fact, Eller's departure only came to light because the resignation letter accidentally was sent to all users on the tribal e-mail system, our source says.

    According to the letter, Eller resigned "due to personal reasons related to his mother's terminal illness." But staff at Pearl River Resort state that the CFO had been looking for another job, our source says.

    The new developments at Mississippi Choctaw facilities could have an impact in Alabama. Former Republican Party lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who spent roughly four years in federal prison on corruption charges, has admitted that he funneled some $20 million into Alabama to help Bob Riley win the 2002 governor's race over incumbent Democrat Don Siegelman.

    A proponent of an education lottery in Alabama, Siegelman was seen as a threat to the Choctaws' market share, which depends heavily on Alabamians who cross the border to gamble in Mississippi. Indian gaming interests and their GOP benefactors also apparently pushed for the federal Alabama bingo trials of 2011 and '12, which resulted in zero convictions after the expenditure of millions in taxpayer dollars.

    Could an FBI probe at Choctaw headquarters shine light on events that have turned Alabama into a political cesspool over the past dozen years? It's still too early to say, but an investors report out last month indicates the FBI is lurking in Choctaw territory, hinting that something still could come from the inquiry.

    We first reported an FBI raid at the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos on July 12, 2011. Two days later, we had a post titled "Why Did the FBI Launch a Raid on Mississippi Choctaw Gaming Facilities?" We tried to put events into perspective with this:

    When news broke on Tuesday afternoon of an FBI raid at the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos, many Alabamians wondered if it was driven by the political ugliness that has engulfed our state since George W. Bush entered the White House. After all, news reports indicate that Mississippi Choctaws spent $13 million, funneled through Republican felon Jack Abramoff, to help get Bob Riley elected governor in 2002. And Riley's apparent desire to protect the Choctaws market share, by stamping out gaming in Alabama, led to a federal electronic-bingo prosecution that is ongoing in Montgomery. 
    If Tuesday's raid has anything to do with Riley, Abramoff, and perhaps the Bush administration (hello, Karl Rove!), it would be a major national story. But so far, we have no indication that such weighty issues are driving the investigation. If they are, that would mean the Obama Department of Justice actually has its head out of you know where--and we've seen no sign that Eric Holder and Co. are up to the task of investigating and prosecuting Bush-era crimes.

    One week after that, we reported that the FBI investigation had connections to Mercury Gaming Group and the Titan Agency, of Atlanta. Last July, we reported on the apparent suicide of a former U.S. prosecutor who had worked for the Choctaws.

    Since then, the FBI probe has generated nothing but silence. But a report from Moody's Investors Service, dated May 2, 2013, has generated noise. It changed the ratings outlook to positive from stable for Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise (CRDE). While the report noted improvement in certain key areas, it's big-picture view was a mixed bag:

    The outlook revision to positive reflects a sharp improvement in run-rate EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), largely owing to expense reductions from the termination of certain unfavorable vendor contracts. The outlook revision also recognizes changes to improve the Enterprise, including the establishment of a stable and professional management team. Notwithstanding these positives, the rating also captures weak topline trends due to soft regional economic conditions and the competitive nature of the inland markets where the casinos are located. While the bulk of major expense reductions are largely complete, Moody's still expects the Enterprise to prudently manage its costs such that EBITDA remains relatively stable despite contracting revenues.

    Dark clouds continue to hover over the Choctaws' financial report. From Moody's:

    The [rating] reflects Choctaw Resort's small size, earnings concentration in a single jurisdiction, relatively low population density in its primary market, weak gaming revenue trends, and the challenging local economy in its primary markets in Mississippi and Alabama. The rating also captures the high level of tribal distributions as a percentage of EBITDA and the expectation they will continue to be maximized (as per the credit agreement and bond indenture), and uncertainty related to the outcome of the FBI investigation that has been ongoing at the Enterprise since July 2011. Moody's will continue to monitor further developments from this investigation and assess potential rating implications as appropriate. In addition, the rating reflects the high degree of uncertainty surrounding the enforceability of lenders' claims at default and other unique risks common to Native American gaming issuers.

    Near its conclusion, the Moody's report again raises the FBI issue:

    Moody's could revise the ratings outlook back to stable if revenue declines worsen such that EBITDA meaningfully deteriorates from current run-rate levels. Any factors/events that could debilitate the gaming operations would likely result in downward rating pressure, including an adverse development in the FBI investigation, management turnover/corporate governance issues, and/or a deterioration in liquidity.

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    Sherry Carroll Rollins, a central character in the controversial Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, was injured recently in an automobile crash on U.S. 280 near Birmingham. The incident involves a number of oddities that might cause a reasonable person to wonder if this was an "accident" or a planned hit, designed to hurt or intimidate someone.

    The extent of Rollins' injuries are not known; thanks largely to the monstrous cheat job she encountered in her Shelby County divorce case, she has no health insurance--and she has not received a thorough medical examination since the crash on May 24. But she tells Legal Schnauzer that, post-wreck, she has experienced persistent neck, back, chest, hip, leg, ankle and foot pain.

    How severe was the impact when another driver plowed into the rear of Rollins' 2007 Subaru Forester? Her vehicle was totaled, and her passenger, daughter-in-law Kristie Parrish, has been diagnosed with a detached retina that will require surgery. It appears that nothing struck Parrish in the eye; the retina detached from the force of the crash.

    Rollins was traveling east on 280, near the Whole Foods Market in Mountain Brook, when the crash occurred. Sarah Rollins, Sherry's oldest daughter, was coming for a visit the next day, and Ms. Rollins and Ms. Parrish were going to World Market in the Target shopping center to pick up some blinds for the windows in Sarah's room.

    They were perhaps halfway to their destination, in the center lane, when Sherry Rollins said she felt what seemed like an explosion from the rear of her vehicle. It was 8:05 p.m. on a Friday, but Rollins states that she did not notice lights coming from behind her.

    A 2011 Acura TSX, driven by a 23-year-old male nurse at UAB Hospital, hit the Rollins vehicle in the rear. Rollins says she was driving about 55 mph and estimates the other driver was traveling at least 75 mph in order to catch up to her and hit with such force. From an e-mail to Legal Schnauzer that Rollins sent about four hours after the crash:

    I was going about 55 on 280 just past whole foods at about 8:00 p.m.  A car came up behind me and hit me in the rear doing about 75; I think the car is totaled. I am sore and my back hurts. My ankles hurt too for some reason. Kristie, Eric's wife, was with me. She is having a headache and her back hurts too. The paramedics came. Checked her out. She is pretty shaken. Never been in a wreck before.

    I am now home by the Mtn. Brook police and have no car as the car was towed away . . . undrivable. 
    Felt weird because you never expect to just be hit when you haven't hit your brakes and are driving down a three lane highway in the middle lane. It sounded like the car had exploded. It was so loud . . . fluids gushing from the car.

    Rollins visited St. Vincent's Hospital the next day and was seen in the emergency room. Rollins states that, because she lacks health insurance, ER personnel declined to administer  an MRI and other tests that might have revealed musculoskeletal and internal injuries. They focused instead on writing prescriptions for pain killers and muscle relaxants. Dr. John Ammon did examine her, and this is from a subsequent e-mail that Rollins sent to Legal Schnauzer:

    The [doctor] at St. Vincent's where I went Saturday to the ER to see if I was o.k. said that was probably the strangest wreck he had ever heard in the ER. He said cars don't usually follow behind you and plow into you unless you have put on your brakes. I DID NOT brake . . . the guy just hit us for no apparent reason.

    The Alabama Uniform Traffic Crash Report for the incident says Unit 1 (driven by the UAB nurse) was traveling an estimated 50 mph, while Unit 2 (driven by Rollins) was traveling about 45 mph. Here is the key portion of a brief narrative:

    Driver of Unit One stated he looked down to get his drink when all of a sudden the airbags deployed. Driver of Unit Two stated they were driving east on US 280 when driver of Unit One hit them from behind.

    What about those oddities we mentioned earlier? Here are a few questions to ponder:

    * Was the UAB nurse driving without lights at 8:05 p.m.? 

    * How could the UAB nurse have caught up to a vehicle driving 45 mph and inflicted that much damage while driving 50 mph?

    * How do you accidentally hit a vehicle that hard when it is moving in front of you, when it has not braked? Did the nurse's air bags deploy before impact or upon impact?

    * Why did the St. Vincent's ER physician say it sounded like possibly the strangest wreck he had ever heard about? 

    * The timing of the wreck is curious, just one day before Sarah Rollins visit. We have reported that Sarah Rollins is the beneficiary of a trust fund that her father, Campus Crest Communities CEO Ted Rollins, has kept under wraps. Sarah, age 19, is entitled under the law to know about the provisions of the trust fund, which was established by her grandfather (and Ted's father), John Rollins Sr. Both Sarah and her mother have been kept in the dark about the fund.

    The car crash becomes even more curious when you consider that this is not the first time Sherry Rollins has been on the receiving end of a vehicle-related incident that could have resulted in serious injury or even death. Since Ms. Rollins marriage to Ted Rollins began to unravel in the 1990s, this is the third such incident.

    (To be continued) 

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    Milton McGregor at
    VictoryLand casino
    Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has created a controversy about electronic-bingo in Macon County where no controversy exists, under the law.

    The electronic-bingo machines at VictoryLand are legal, and we can say that with certainty because of a simple provision of law that might best be stated as follows: The constitution trumps a state statute.

    Most students probably learn that on about the third day of law school. Luther Strange and his associates must have been absent that day because they persist in challenging a legal concept that is impervious to challenge. Former Governor Bob Riley and his legal advisers also must have been out of the loop because they spent the last two years of his administration (2008-10) conducting groundless legal actions against bingo facilities that cost taxpayers an estimated $4 million.

    Strange has picked up where Riley left off, but as someone with a law degree, the attorney general should know the multiple anti-bingo raids of the past five years or so have no basis in law.

    Here is how the legal argument stands at the moment: Strange repeatedly has claimed in court documents that the machines at VictoryLand meet the definition of an illegal slot machine under state law. An Alabama Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year quoted one of Strange's staff members making this argument in an affidavit seeking a search warrant to raid VictoryLand. Here is language straight from the affidavit:

    Based upon my experience and understanding of [§] 13A-12-20(10), [Ala. Code 1975,] each machine observed . . .  at the Casino met the definition of a slot machine.

    The second prong of Strange's primary claim argues that the VictoryLand machines constitute illegal gambling devices under state law. Again, quoting from the affidavit:

    Furthermore, it is my opinion the machines inside the Casino fit the description of a Gambling Device as outlined in [§] 13A-12-20(5) [, Ala. Code 1975].

    As you can see, the Strange argument is built on two provisions from the Code of Alabama, which is statutory law. But VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and his lawyers make the following fundamental argument: "Amendment 744 to the Alabama Constitution specifically permits bingo in Macon County and does not limit the forms of bingo which may be operated."

    A plain reading of Amendment 744 shows that the McGregor team is correct, with the sheriff designated to "promulgate rules and regulations for the licensing and operation of bingo games within the county." Nowhere is a role designated for the attorney general--or the governor, for that matter--to determine what forms of bingo can be played in Macon County.

    Perhaps McGregor's strongest argument, however, comes from a simple legal concept that is spelled out across Alabama state law. Here is one way to put it: If a conflict exists between a state statute and a constitutional amendment, the Alabama Supreme Court has held that the constitutional amendment controls and takes precedence over the statute.

    In other words, the constitution trumps a statute. And a case styled Chorba-Lee Scholarship Fund Inc., et al v. Sheriff Mike Hale, et al, 60 So. 3d 279 (2010) is one of many cases that spell it out:

    'Undeniably, the legislature cannot enact a statute that conflicts with the Constitution, that is, that prohibits that which is permitted by the Constitution or that permits that which is prohibited by the Constitution.'" Opinion of the Justices No. 373, 795 So.2d 630, 632 (Ala.2001) (quoting City of Birmingham v. Graffeo, 551 So.2d 357, 361-62 (Ala. 1989)).

    If no genuine controversy exists regarding electronic bingo in Macon County, why has Luther Strange started one? Why did former Governor Bob Riley, before Strange, start a crusade against non-Indian gaming that largely was not based in the law? It has been widely reported that Strange and Riley have received campaign support from Indian gaming interests--the Choctaws in Mississippi and the Poarch Creeks in Alabama--so a reasonable citizen might figure that the bogus controversy was generated for political purposes that have nothing to do with the law.

    When Strange protested the issuance of a liquor license late last year at the VictoryLand casino, McGregor attorneys Joe Espy and John M. Bolton filed a response that put the attack on non-Indian gaming in perspective:

    Perhaps General Strange believes the ends justify the means when it comes to non-Indian gaming. It is clear that the concerted and illegal attacks a former Governor and General Strange made on VictoryLand and others have benefited the Indian casino operators who have lavished campaign cash on them. For example, the Poarch Creek casinos, who have a tax-free monopoly in Alabama, have experienced the fastest growth in revenues of any Native American casino in the United States--a staggering 61%--while revenues at Indian gaming facilities decreased nationwide. In fact, on July 11, 2012, the Poarch Creek Indians announced a $246 million expansion project at its Creek Casino Riverside in Wetumpka. And the Choctaws opened a new casino in Mississippi near the Alabama border in December 2012 after VictoryLand ceased operating electronic bingo games. 
    We cannot be sure whether General Strange's "protest" is part of his ongoing effort to block non-Indian casinos from operating legal games in Alabama, if it is merely a public relations stunt to give the impression that he is acting in the manner desired by his mentor (Bob Riley) and Native American benefactors, of if it is intended to promote his future political aspirations. What is clear is that . . . there is no legal basis for considering his request.

    The bottom line? Given the simple holding that a constitutional amendment trumps a state statute, it's hard to see legal justification for the actions Strange and Riley have taken toward non-Indian gaming in Alabama. That suggests they have been playing games with the people of Alabama, using our tax dollars to  promote their political aspirations. How long will citizens continue to tolerate it? 

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    Your ISP TRACKS Your Online Activity! Hide your IP ADDRESS with a VPN!
    Before you searching always remember to change your IP adress to not be followed!

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