Articles on this Page
- 06/12/13--03:32: _Obama Commerce Secr...
- 06/13/13--03:18: _Strange Seeks Sanct...
- 06/13/13--08:57: _State NAACP Calls F...
- 06/17/13--03:30: _CEO Ted Rollins Use...
- 06/18/13--03:16: _Judge Michael Putna...
- 06/19/13--03:20: _Did Don Siegelman H...
- 06/20/13--03:29: _With $25-Million Fe...
- 06/20/13--08:42: _AG Strange Resorts ...
- 06/24/13--03:12: _Rollins Family's Me...
- 06/25/13--03:34: _Federal Law Clerk S...
- 06/26/13--03:26: _Voting Rights Act 2...
- 06/27/13--03:27: _Shelby Co. Resurrec...
- 07/01/13--03:17: _Was The Fiery Death...
- 07/02/13--03:15: _ Rob Riley Had An A...
- 07/03/13--03:34: _Lawyer Who Filed Sh...
- 07/08/13--03:15: _Alabama GOPer Rob R...
- 07/08/13--09:18: _Federal Court Cites...
- 07/09/13--03:11: _How Did An iPhone B...
- 07/10/13--03:02: _Rob Riley Touts His...
- 07/11/13--03:05: _A Glimpse At Inform...
|President Obama and Penny Pritzker|
Pritzker belongs to the family that founded the Hyatt Hotels chain, and published reports show the family has a history of hiding massive amounts of money in offshore tax shelters and even deceiving family members about the contents of trust funds.
If that sounds familiar to Legal Schnauzer readers, it's because the Pritzkers apparently studied at the same school of financial skulduggery as the Atlanta-based Rollins clan, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and the subject of numerous posts growing from the controversial Rollins v. Rollins divorce case here in Alabama.
The similarities become eerie when you consider the experience of Liesel Pritzker, who filed a $6-billion lawsuit at age 18, claiming that her father and 11 older cousins had looted her trust funds and those of her older brother, Matthew. The Pritzker lawsuit, launched in 2002, was settled in 2005, with Liesel and her brother receiving a settlement that totaled $900 million.
Liesel Pritzker, under the name Liesel Matthews, was a child actress who starred in such films as A Little Princess, Air Force One, and Blast. She left the entertainment field and co-founded the IDP Foundation in 2008.
Her story mirrors that of the younger generation in the Rollins family. A pending lawsuit in Georgia alleges that Randall and Gary Rollins, heads of Rollins Inc. (the parent company of Orkin and other enterprises), raided family trust funds for their own benefit. A recent appellate ruling found that the case brought by four of Gary Rollins' children should be heard by a jury.
Sarah Rollins, who now is 19 and grew up in Birmingham with her mother Sherry and younger sister Emma, apparently is the beneficiary of a trust fund established by her grandfather, John Rollins Sr. But Sarah's father, Campus Crest Community CEO Ted Rollins, has kept his daughter and ex wife in the dark about the fund--even though the law in most states requires that, at age 18, beneficiaries are entitled to be informed about provisions of trust accounts.
Are Ted Rollins and other family patriarchs using Sarah Rollins' money for their own benefit, without her knowledge or consent? That appears to be a distinct possibility. A curious car crash, which coincided with Sarah Rollins' visit to Birmingham and left Sherry Rollins with a number of injuries, adds to the intrigue.
In 1982, for instance, when The Kansas City Times published an investigation of family finances after the collapse of a skywalk at a Kansas City Hyatt killed 114, they discovered that the family’s casino purchases beginning in 1959 were funded by $54 million in loans from the notorious mob-connected Teamsters Pension Fund, without telling stockholders as the law required. (The family agreed to a consent decree that allowed them to neither admit nor deny the allegations—shades of Superior Bank). The paper also quoted an IRS informant, a vice president of the offshore bank where the family stashed their cash: “The Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Corp. initially received their backing from organized crime.” According to the reporter who won a Pulitzer for the series, Knut Royce, Jay Pritzker’s initial response was to try to buy the newspaper. Failing that, he arranged a private takeover of Hyatt, the family’s one company that has ever been public, so it never would have to file information with the Securities ad Exchange Commission again.
Perlstein also provides a nice summation of the Liesel Pritzker case:
This family is famously secretive. In 2003 two family scions, siblings Liesel and Matthew Pritzker, sued their father Robert Pritzker for $6 billion, claiming he had looted their trust fund. In 2004, a judge gave them access to sealed financial reports. Explained investigating reporter Gus Russo, “that unearthed a secret family deal cut after Liesel’s uncle Jay Pritzker’s death in 1999, a plan that would have broken up the fortune into eleven shares valued at $1.4 billion each. In early 2005, rather than expose the complicated Pritzker offshore shelters to the light of day, the Pritzker family put the final touches on a private settlement agreement” giving Liesel and Matthew Pritzker upwards of $500 million each to drop the case.
We now have some idea about why the Pritzker family, of Chicago, has kept its financial dealings in the shadows. But what about the Rollins family, of Atlanta--with a branch in Delaware that largely is responsible for Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, plus Rollins Jamaica Ltd? What is driving the older generation to take liberties with funds that belong to the younger generation?
The pending lawsuit in Georgia might soon provide some answers. And we might learn even more if Sarah Rollins someday pulls a Liesel Pritzker and takes legal action to find out what her father and other patriarchs have done with her money.
In a motion filed June 5, Strange says the lawsuit against him and Governor Robert Bentley is frivolous, has no support in the law, and was filed for purposes of harassment. Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) gives courts the authority to impose sanctions on parties, lawyers, or both under certain circumstances. (See motion for sanctions at the end of this post.)
Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other plaintiffs say their case is solidly grounded in fact and law. They claim Strange has caused "economic devastation" in Macon County by closing the VictoryLand casino during a February raid, seizing 1,600 electronic-bingo machines and more than $220,000 in cash. Plaintiffs also claim that Bentley's executive order, appointing Strange to enforce gambling laws in all 67 counties, usurped the authority of the Macon County sheriff and violated residents' voting rights.
Donald LaRoche, plaintiff's' attorney from Brockton, Massachusetts, said the motion for sanctions is a continuation of intimidation tactics that Strange has employed since the lawsuit was filed. Strange contends that a U.S. Supreme Court case styled Presley v. Etowah County Commission, 502 U.S. 491 (1992) precludes the plaintiffs' claims. But LaRoche argues otherwise, and in a response to the Rule 11 motion, he states:
On behalf of the plaintiffs, I have previously responded to your Rule 11 letter and our position has not changed: Presley is inapplicable here and the Attorney General's actions are a violation of federal law, which we intend to prove at trial after engaging in wide-ranging discovery permitted by the federal rules of civil procedure.
Are the words in bold above driving Luther Strange's motion for sanctions? Is he pulling out some questionable ethical stops in an effort to avoid the kind of "wide-ranging discovery" that could reveal the real reasons he and former GOP Governor Bob Riley launched a crusade against non-Indian gaming that now has lasted five years . . . and counting?
This much seems clear: Strange has been much more antagonistic than Bentley in attacking the lawsuit; we've seen nothing in the record that indicates Bentley has joined in the motion for sanctions. Is that because Bentley has no record of taking campaign cash from Indian gaming interests, such as the Alabama Poarch Creeks (Strange) and the Mississippi Choctaws (Riley)? Is that because Bentley has made no overt efforts to protect market share for Indian gaming by raiding and trying to close non-Indian facilities?
Here perhaps is the gist of Strange's argument for sanctions:
Plaintiffs are . . . without legal basis when they allege that the Defendants have effected a “de facto” replacement of the Macon County Sheriff. . . . Plaintiffs do not and cannot allege that the sheriff is no longer in office or has been deprived of all the powers of a sheriff. All Plaintiffs allege is that other executive-branch officials, and the Justices of a unanimous Alabama Supreme Court, have determined that the sheriff misinterpreted Alabama’s gambling laws when he publicly announced that the machines at issue were legal. . . . That was not even a “transfer of decision-making power” between state officials for the purposes of the Voting Rights Act. . . . But in any event, Presley holds that even when a State transfers power between officials, the State will not be deemed to have engaged in a de facto replacement of the official who lost power so long as that official “retains substantial authority. . . ." Plaintiffs do not allege that the Macon County sheriff no longer has substantial authority. Plaintiffs’ Voting Rights Act claims are thus frivolous as a matter of law.
Is it possible that Strange will prevail on the voting-rights argument? Yes, it is. Does that mean that plaintiffs' claims are frivolous? No, it does not--and Strange's motion makes no citation to law that supports its contention that the lawsuit is frivolous.
The Macon County plaintiffs do not rely on the Voting Rights Act alone. They also raise civil-rights claims of purposeful discrimination and fundamental unfairness.
Is Strange, in his motion for sanctions, playing loose with the facts? Consider the first section in bold above. It states that the Alabama Supreme Court has determined that the sheriff of Macon County "misinterpreted Alabama's gambling laws when he publicly announced that the machines at issue were legal."
When did the Alabama Supreme Court make such a determination? What was the case, and when was it decided? If our state's highest court actually has made such a determination, it has escaped my attention--and apparently that of the Macon County plaintiffs.
Is Strange playing loose with the relevant law here? Consider the second section in bold above. Strange argues that Presley holds there is no de facto replacement of a public official as long as the official retains substantial authority. But that's not what Presley says. Here is what it does say:
We need not consider here whether an otherwise uncovered enactment of a jurisdiction subject to the Voting Rights Act might under some circumstances rise to the level of a de facto replacement of an elective office with an appointive one, within the rule of Bunton v. Patterson. For present purposes it suffices to note that the Russell County Commission retains substantial authority, including the power to appoint the county engineer and to set his or her budget. The change at issue in Russell County is not a covered change.
The Supreme Court issued a limited ruling in Presley. It said that the changes in Presley were not covered by the Voting Rights Act, but it said circumstances in future cases might rise to the level that would require preclearance under the act. The court declined to offer a "bright line rule" that would guide public officials in future cases. It simply said that the circumstances in Presley did not amount to a covered change.
In other words, Strange is hanging his legal hat on pretty weak stuff when he relies on Presley because it offers little in the way of precedent. The Supreme Court did in Presley pretty much what it would do eight years later in Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election. On that occasion, the court said (in so many words), "Here is our finding in this case, under these circumstances, but it is not to be used as guidance in future cases."
The Macon County plaintiffs claim that the usurpation of their sheriff's powers goes way beyond that described in Presley. And they claim discovery will prove that Strange and Bentley violated federal law.
Strange clearly disagrees with the plaintiffs' claims, but that does not mean they are frivolous--and Strange cites no authority to support his contention that they are frivolous.
That could cause a reasonable observer to conclude that Luther Strange wants no part of a discovery process in the Macon County lawsuit.
Batiste was suspended with pay on April 19 after retired presiding judge Scott Vowell launched a complaint campaign against her. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary is scheduled to hear her case on July 29.
The Alabama NAACP says in a statement that the matter should not get that far. From the NAACP statement, which can be viewed in full at the end of this post:
On November 2, 2010, over 107,000 people elected Dorothea Batiste as one of our three Domestic Relations Judges. Immediately, she implemented procedures that substantially increased the number of cases heard each month, increasing the number of closed cases each year from 8% to 103%. In a little over two years Judge Batiste handled over 2,800 cases. She implemented standards that protected the children and provided both parents equal voice in the lives of their children.
However, within a few months of being on the bench, Judge Scott Vowell, the Presiding Judge at the time began countless visits to her office, made numerous telephone calls, and demands to change her orders for the benefits of the few; this is not for which we elect Judges. The AL NAACP condemns the politics, race discrimination, harassment, retaliation and attack on Judge Batiste.
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission suspended Batiste after finding she used her contempt power in an abusive and unlawful fashion. But the NAACP says Batiste acted within the law to help ensure justice for parties who came before her. From the statement:
We are fully aware of the matters put before the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission, and the Court of Judiciary and hereby denounce this continued selective prosecution, witch hunt, harassment and absolute abuse of process which Judge Batiste has endured.
The cases presented by the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission concern a mother not getting child support, another mother in a custody battle needing her witness, a man who died without ever seeing his portion of the martial assets, and another mother in a custody battle needing a witness so that her children did not have to testify. Judge Batiste used the contempt powers of the Court in an effort to enforce these orders of the Court.
The NAACP receives complaints monthly concerning the unfairness of judges, and when the complaints are submitted to Presiding Judges or other oversight organizations, their complaints seem to fall on [deaf] ears. Yet you have a Judge who is trying to be firm but fair, and she finds herself being suspended from the bench. We demand that Circuit Court Judge Dorothea Batiste be reinstated to the Bench, immediately.
The NAACP puts the Batiste matter in context with recent events connected to Alabama history:
For the past 6 months, the State of Alabama and the City of Birmingham [have] commemorated the Civil Rights Movement and the 50th anniversary of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL. This movement began long before the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, such events as Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat to white passengers, which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Demonstrations for voting rights, justice and equality in Birmingham led to a movement that Alabama had not seen before, because people could no longer stand by in silence. The AL NAACP shall not be silent in this grave injustice that has occurred to Circuit Court Judge Dorothea Batiste.
Ted Rollins and partner Mike Hartnett|
at the New York Stock Exchange
One trip to her husband's office, while he was away on business, yielded evidence that their daughter, Sarah Rollins, had a trust fund that had been kept secret. That trip also produced signs that Ted Rollins was carrying on extramarital affairs with multiple women, including an Emory University health-care executive named Cary Sheahan.
A second trip to the office while Ted Rollins was away produced a scene that sounds like it came straight from a John Grisham movie. And that scene shows how far Rollins patriarchs will go to protect their secrets.
Sherry Rollins now lives in Birmingham, where she was on the wrong end of a courtroom cheat job once her divorce case unlawfully was shifted from South Carolina to Alabama; Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson issued a bogus divorce judgment that was so one-sided it has forced Ms. Rollins and her two daughters--Sarah, now 19, and Emma, 15--to be on and off of food stamps for several years.
Ted Rollins, meanwhile, still lives in Greenville and is CEO of Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities, which has generated more than $730 million in Wall Street support since it went public in 2010.
You might think that the CEO of a public company would have a history of transparency on financial matters. But not Ted Rollins. In fact, he will go to extraordinary lengths to make sure certain information stays under wraps.
How did Sherry Rollins' second trip to her husband's office come about? By this time, his quarters had moved from the First Union Building to the Crescent Center, which he had helped develop for a family business called St. James Capital. Also by this time, Sherry Rollins had filed for divorce, and a Greenville lawyer named James McLaren had suggested she get certain information for use in court.
That sets the scene for Office Visit No. 2, which Sherry Rollins described in an e-mail to Legal Schnauzer:
After [Ted] moved to the Crescent Center, my mother, Sarah and Emma went to the Crescent Center after hours around 5:00 and I entered the building. I needed proof of the cost of my house and other things about the company, St. James. The lawyer, Jim McLaren, asked me to get proof of certain things for court. Sarah was playing in the rose garden and Mother was watching her, and Emma was asleep in the car.
I went into his office as it was unattended and took files from a drawer regarding the house I lived in and other files, including the file on Sarah's trust fund.
Sherry Rollins was about to place the material in her vehicle when Ted Rollins appeared:
[Ted] walked up with a construction worker while I was loading the files. He grabbed Sarah and threatened to hold her and keep her if I didn't hand him the files. I reluctantly gave him the files in exchange for Sarah, as I knew I had files that were important to our future. He put her in her car seat and grabbed all the files.
How classy a guy is Ted Rollins? Here, according to Sherry Rollins, are the exact words he said to her:
If you want this kid, give me the G-d--ned, f-----g files.
Did Ted Rollins threaten to kidnap his own daughter--"this kid," in his words--if he did not get his files back? That's what it sounds like. One can only wonder what was in those files. One, however, need not wonder about Ted Rollins' vindictive nature. The following passage from Sherry Rollins spells that out in clear terms:
[Ted] later called the police and tried to have me arrested for breaking and entering. The office was open, and I did not break in. The police came for me the following day and threatened me. I was told to report to the police station and turn myself in. I called a lawyer locally and asked him to meet me there. He got me off of the charge.
I went back home, and mother packed, and the girls and I drove her home to Tennessee. We were so scared--mother crying, the kids crying. I drove all the way to Tennessee, and the girls and mother sobbed most of the way. It was horrible, so scary. Then when I got back to Greenville, the police came to my house again and tried to arrest me. I called the lawyer again, and he got them to leave me alone again. I can't remember how much I had to pay the lawyer; but it was a lot.
I contacted Ted Rollins via e-mail and requested an interview on the above incident. He has not responded to that request.
Previously in the series:
A Wife's Investigative Skills Turn Up Information About CEO Ted Rollins' Extramarital Activities (June 3, 2013)
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)
|Michael D. Waters Sr.|
Does that explain why U.S. Magistrate T. Michael Putnam has unlawfully dismissed that defendant from the case--along with three corporate entities who are affiliated with her?
We don't have a solid answer to that question yet. But Putnam and his office clearly have a conflict of interest, one that should have forced his recusal from the outset. Instead, he has presided over the case for almost 20 months--a period marked by curious delays, questionable record keeping, failure to notify the plaintiff (Mrs. Schnauzer) of key hearings, and dismissals of corporate defendants that are not supported by law.
Throughout that time, Putnam never has disclosed that one of his chief clerks, Michael David ("David") Waters Jr., is the son of a partner in a firm that represents a defendant who, according to allegations in my wife's complaint, started the process that led to her unlawful termination at Infinity.
How best to explain the glaring conflict of interest? You need a scorecard to keep up with the players in Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP), so we will offer an explanation in "scorecardy" fashion. Here it is:
* David Waters Jr. is a 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law. He is a chief clerk for Judge T. Michael Putnam in the Northern District of Alabama;
* David Waters' father is Michael David Waters Sr., a partner in the Birmingham office of the Jones Walker law firm, which has more than 375 attorneys in nine states and the District of Columbia.
|Kary Bryant Wolfe|
* Is it likely that David Waters' Sr. and Kary Bryant Wolfe are fairly close colleagues? Well, they both work at Jones Walker's Birmingham headquarters at One Federal Place downtown (also the home, by the way, of the august firm Bradley Arant, with its ties to Mexican drug cartels and other unsavory activities). Waters Sr. works in the firm's Banking and Financial Services Practice Group. Wolfe is in the Business and Commercial Litigation Practice Group. Is their quite a bit of overlap in those two groups, with lawyers from one often working with lawyers from the other? Certainly sounds like it.
Why does it matter that David Waters Sr.'s son works as a clerk for the judge who is overseeing a case in which the Jones Walker firm has a decided interest? Law clerks are glorified "gofers" aren't they, making sure primarily that the coffee pots are filled and the trash cans are emptied?
Well, it turns out that the term "law clerk" often is misunderstood by the public. That sounds like someone whose work duties don't go much beyond filing and such. But as we reported in a post last September, many orders and opinions in federal courts are written not by judges, but by their clerks. California lawyer William Domnarski shined light on the issue in an op-ed piece last year for The New York Times, calling the situation "embarrassing" for the legal profession. From our post on the subject:
Law clerks write the opinions for almost all federal appellate judges, Domnarski writes, and it stands to reason that the practice also is common in federal trial courts. Domnarski says members of the legal tribe rarely discuss the issue because it "raises too many embarrassing questions." Domnarski goes on to write: "We have become too comfortable with the troubling idea that judging does not require that judges do their own work."
Is David Waters Jr. writing the orders and opinions for Judge Putnam in my wife's employment case? You pretty much can count on it? Is that why the documents have tended to favor the Jones Walker law firm and various corporate-connected defendants? You probably can count on that. Is that why Angie Ingram, represented by David Waters Sr.'s colleague Kary Bryant Wolfe, has been dismissed from the case, even though black-letter law says that can't happen? You probably can count on that, too.
What is the black-letter law that governs Ingram's attempt to be dismissed? Details are available in a document that can be viewed at the end of this post. But here is the crux of the matter:
The simple issue is this: Ingram cannot be dismissed from this case because she submitted evidentiary matters requiring that her Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss be treated as a Motion for Summary Judgment—and Shuler is entitled under the law to conduct discovery in order to counter that evidentiary material.
The Court cites some half dozen cases on this simple issue, but the controlling Eleventh Circuit case is Snook v. Trust Co. of Georgia Bank, 859 F. 2d 865 (11th Cir., 1988).
What about the dismissal of corporate entities such as American Express, NCO, and JPMorgan Chase? Mrs. Schnauzer's complaint alleges--and the record will show--that they had an agency relationship with Ms. Ingram and her law firm. That means those companies, under the law, have vicarious liability for damages that Angie Ingram caused.
The law on vicarious liability, at this stage of the case, could not be more simple. One court document sums it up this way:
The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has found: “Although the complaint need not expressly state that [Defendant] was vicariously liable to the Sprinkles, it must at least give notice of vicarious liability.” Category 5 Management Group v. National Casualty Insurance Company, (Eleventh Circuit, 2012). At this stage in the proceedings, Shuler is required only to give notice regarding vicarious liability, and she has met that standard.
If David Waters Jr.'s duty is to research and write Judge Putnam's orders and opinions so that they accurately reflect the law, he is doing a wretched job. If, on the other hand, his assignment is to ensure that his father's law firm and various corporate entities receive one unlawful favor after another . . . well, he's getting the job done.
This much is certain: Judge Putnam and his office have handled the case in such an inept fashion that my wife actually was forced recently to submit a document styled "Motion for Court Action." In it, she essentially begs the court to take action on matters that have been pending for several months and need resolution so that the parties can move forward with discovery. You can read the document below.
Have certain documents been gathering dust because David Waters Jr. has not been able to figure out a way to mold them so that they favor the Jones Walker law firm? I'm starting to think the answer is yes.
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Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman returned to federal prison last September 11 for his conviction on "crimes" that do not exist under the law, in a prosecution that was brought almost one full year after the statute of limitations on the central charge had expired. How could a high-priced defense team fail to get an acquittal under such outrageous circumstances?
One answer might be that Siegelman's ever-evolving defense team included one or more members who had conflicts that did not serve the former governor well. Our inquiry has focused especially on G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration who was, until recently, a member of the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter. Earlier this month, Jones joined with former White Arnold & Dowd lawyer Greg Hawley to announce the formation of Jones & Hawley PC.
Jones also was a central character in the federal Alabama bingo trial, serving as defense counsel for former Country Crossing founder Ronnie Gilley. Ironically, Jones stepped down as Gilley's lawyer prior to trial, much as he did with Siegelman. Gilley went on to plead guilty and testify against VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and other defendants. Through a trial and re-trial, federal prosecutors achieved zero verdicts.
As for the Siegelman matter, Jones was chief defense counsel at a critical time in the investigation, when the government seemed uncertain whether it even had a case. We already have shown that Jones threw prosecutors a lifeline by encouraging Siegelman to sign a tolling agreement that extended the five-year statute of limitations.
Perhaps of more interest than Jones' actions is his mindset. To get at that issue, we will examine his statements and actions toward three individuals--a former Alabama attorney general and current federal judge, a fellow lawyer with strong political connections, and a veteran journalist.
Did Don Siegelman have Doug Jones' undivided loyalty? Let's take a look. (We will conclude with a video at the end of this post.)
* Doug Jones gives Bill Pryor "thumbs up"--As one of Don Siegelman's chief defense lawyers, Jones might be expected to have serious issues with former Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor. After all, Pryor launched a state investigation of Siegelman before the new governor's fanny had hardly warmed his chair--and that state probe turned into a federal prosecution that ended with Siegelman in prison on convictions that are not supported by fact or law. Pryor also sealed ballots from the 2002 gubernatorial election when votes for Siegelman mysteriously disappeared overnight in heavily conservative Baldwin County, giving the "victory" to Republican Bob Riley. Pryor's actions ensured there would be no recount--and no revelations about an almost certain case of election theft.
Doug Jones must think Bill Pryor is a dubious guy, right? Heck, no. The Bush administration rewarded Pryor for his skulduggery on the Siegelman case with an appointment to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals--even though Pryor had zero judicial experience. Pryor's nomination was so controversial, and liberal groups were so strongly opposed to him, that Bush was forced to make a recess appointment.
But Doug Jones thinks Bill Pryor is a swell guy, based on Jones' testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in October 2007. (See document beneath the video at the end of this post.)
From Jones' own words, we see that he had ample grounds to suspect Bill Pryor was an unethical guy, a partisan hack. On page 3 of his testimony, Jones said he first learned of a criminal investigation against Siegelman in spring 1999, while Jones was serving as U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama. Jones states that lawyers from the Alabama attorney general's office met with his assistants to look at a possible state/federal investigation. During the course of that meeting, the lawyers from the AG's office said they "hoped" the probe would reach the highest levels of the Siegelman administration.
Jones rightly decided that was a bad sign and refused to join the investigation. And he makes it clear that these unethical lawyers worked for . . . Bill Pryor. So why do we then find in Jones' testimony that he finds Pryor to be a "trusted colleague and friend" and was "proud" to support his nomination to the Eleventh Circuit?
Jones receives clear evidence that assistants working for Pryor are corrupt, but he proceeds to declare that Pryor himself is an honorable guy, deserving of a lifetime position on the federal bench? Jones says this in Congressional testimony, even after it was clear that Pryor had played a central role in launching a political prosecution against Jones' one-time client? Was Doug Jones standing up for Don Siegelman or kissing Bill Pryor's judicial fanny?
* Doug Jones gives Rob Riley "thumbs up"--As one of Don Siegelman's chief defense lawyers, Jones might be expected to have serious issues with Homewood lawyer Rob Riley. After all, Riley is the son of Siegelman's chief political rival, a rival who benefited from almost certain election theft in 2002. And Rob Riley had his sticky fingers in the middle of his father's ethically challenged administration every step of the way.
Doug Jones must want to keep his distance from a sketchy guy like Rob Riley, right? Heck, no. They worked together on a massive federal lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corporation. They even acted together as "co-liaison counsel" and helped themselves to the proceeds from a case that generated more than $50 million in attorney fees.
In fact, Jones is so tight with Riley that he takes great exception to anyone who shines light on Junior's seedy activities--like health-care fraud, the very charge that Jones and Riley were quick to help throw at others in the HealthSouth case.
In late March 2009, I wrote a post titled "Does Rob Riley Engage in Fraud As He 'Fights' Fraud?" noting that Riley and his physical-therapy company were defendants in a federal whistleblower lawsuit that alleged Medicare fraud.
Does Doug Jones appreciate efforts to expose fraud and corruption? Not when they involve his legal compadre, Rob Riley. Jones attacked me and my reporting in a comment he posted to a well-known progressive listserv based in Huntsville, Alabama. He described me as a person who "wrote on something they obviously know nothing about" and hinted that my work was based on "innuendo and speculation," that I had come to "absurd conclusions."
I wrote about Jones' attack in a post titled "Striking a Nerve with a Key Figure in the Don Siegelman Case." I later tried to interview Jones via telephone on a number of issues. (See video below.)
When I asked for his response to the fact that Rob Riley is alleged in a federal lawsuit to be involved with Medicare fraud, Jones said, "Based on the things I've seen that you've written, I don't think it's worth my time to comment."
Did Jones cite any specifics regarding inaccurate reporting on my part? No. Does he seem to be extremely sensitive about real journalism being applied to Rob Riley? Yes.
Doug Jones gives Legal Schnauzer "thumbs down"--As one of Don Siegelman's chief defense lawyers, Jones might be expected to be a fan of this blog. After all, few journalists in the country have done more to show that Siegelman was the victim of a political prosecution, a corrupt federal judge, and a tainted jury.
Doug Jones must dig Legal Schnauzer, right? Not exactly. I asked Jones about a decision by the U.S. Justice Department in the late 1990s to call off an investigation of Alabama Reassurance, a company owned by Tuscaloosa businessman and University of Alabama trustee Paul Bryant Jr. Alabama Re already had been implicated in a federal prosecution that resulted in a 15-year prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. Investigators had been given the go-ahead by Jones' predecessor to proceed with an investigation in Alabama against Bryant's company. But when Jones took office, someone called off the Alabama Re investigation.
When asked about the case, Jones said he had been precluded from participating in the Stewart case because of a previous attorney/client relationship--and that presumably means he had done legal work for Bryant. Asked specifically if he, as U.S. attorney, called off the subsequent investigation of Paul Bryant Jr.'s company, Jones responded with a stream of insults. And he never answered the question. Here is part of that exchange:
Jones: I'm trying to make sure you understand that I have read your stuff, I have seen your conspiracy theories, and I am not going to answer any of your questions because I don't trust what you will write, period.
LS: I'm taking it down word for word. . . . I'm asking you, who called off the investigation of Paul Bryant?
Jones: I am not going to respond to any of your questions . .
LS: You were a public official then, Doug . . .
Jones: I am not going to respond to any of your questions. . . . I've seen the garbage you write and the way you spin and the way you slant. It's the most disingenuous stuff I've ever seen. . . . It just doesn't matter to me. You're a nothing to me."
Is Doug Jones a smug, pompous ass? More importantly, does he have solid loyalty to Don Siegelman, his former client who now sits in a federal prison for "crimes" that do not exist under the law? Or is Jones more interested in cozying up to the corrupt likes of Bill Pryor, Rob Riley, and Paul Bryant Jr.?
As for the Alabama bingo trial, evidence strongly suggests that Jones was watching out for Rob Riley's interests all the way--probably because the Riley family long has been at odds with VictoryLand's Milton McGregor. We addressed that issue in an April 2011 post titled "Who Beneifts From Ronnie Gilley's Guilty Plea in Alabama Bingo Case?" From that post:
Jones, in theory, is a Democrat, while Riley has extensive ties to Bush-Republican henchmen. But the two became compadres on the HealthSouth lawsuit, which yielded substantial sums of cash for both of them. So isn't it curious that Ronnie Gilley, whose prime defense lawyer has been Doug Jones, would plead guilty in a move that seems to help the Riley clan?
How does it help the Rileys? Well, Gilley now appears set to testify against the other bingo defendants, including VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor. And it seems clear now that McGregor has been the feds' main target all along. . . .
Does it benefit the Rileys to see Milton McGregor wind up in federal prison? Yes. Did Doug Jones help his buddy, Rob Riley, by pushing Ronnie Gilley to plead guilty and agree to testify against McGregor? Our sources say the answer is yes.
When push comes to shove, does Doug Jones tend to come down on the side of Rob Riley and his corrupt GOP associates? A mountain of evidence suggests the answer is yes.
Here is another question: Does Doug Jones have any trouble sleeping at night over his failure to protect the interests of a former governor who is paying a heavy price for a "crime" he did not commit? I invite you to listen to the video below and come to your own conclusions.
(Note: This is the first of three attempts I've made to interview Jones on a variety of topics. In the first two, he was so smug and snippy that we essentially had no interview. He simply refused to answer questions about matters connected to his role as a former public official or as an officer of publicly funded courts. In the third conversation, Jones actually answered a number of questions in a fairly courteous manner. Why the change in his tone? Perhaps it's because of his recent shift to a new law firm, where he is trying to drum up business. Whatever the reason, you will be hearing the original Doug Jones, and the revised version, in a series of upcoming posts.)
Doug Jones Testimony
|Robert Vance Jr.|
On top of that, public records show Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance has taken at least $3,400 in campaign contributions from lawyers at the Birmingham firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale (MCG), which represents plaintiffs William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. The donations put Vance well over the $2,000 threshold set by Alabama law and require his recusal. (See Code of Alabama 12-24-1 et seq.)
Defendants Steven Mark Hayden and the William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust filed a second motion for recusal last Friday, and Vance already has denied it. (See Part 1 and Part 2 of the renewed recusal motion at the end of this post.) Meanwhile, the defendants' $25 million federal lawsuit is pending in federal court, where they allege Vance's temporary restraining order and other extrajudicial acts have cost them significant investment returns and interest on the trust.
The federal lawsuit against Vance has drawn national attention, with coverage from the widely read Above the Law Web site. But Vance appears to have dug a trench for himself--ignoring ethics standards, statutory provisions, and case law that call for his recusal--with no plans to exit any time soon.
Lawsuits against state judges in federal court usually are quickly dismissed on judicial-immunity grounds. But Bessemer lawyer Austin Burdick, representing Hayden and the trust, makes a power argument that Vance acted outside his judicial capacity, and therefore is subject to suit--and the payment of substantial damages.
That U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn already has not dismissed the federal case indicates she is having a hard time finding a way to let her politically connected judicial colleague off the hook. (Vance's wife, Joyce White Vance, is U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama; his late father, Robert Vance Sr., was a federal judge who was the victim of a mail-bomb assassination in 1989.)
Is Vance Jr. bought and sold for the MCG law firm and its clients? Does he intend to ignore black-letter law that says he must recuse in Cashion matter? Is that the kind of judicial loyalty that campaign cash can buy for a big-time law firm and its corporate clients? Are attorneys at a major downtown Birmingham law firm embarrassed to be involved in such a charade?
The answers to the first three questions appear to be yes. The answer to the final question seems to be a resounding no.
Alabama law regarding recusal of a judge is not complicated. The Canons of Judicial Ethics state “a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities” and “a judge should not allow his family, social, political, or other relationships to influence his judicial conduct or judgment.”
Relevant case law makes it even more clear, as stated in a case styled Ex parte Bryant, 682 So.2d 39, 41 (Ala.1996):
The standard for recusal is an objective one: whether a reasonable person knowing everything that the judge knows would have a ‘reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality.’ . . . The focus of our inquiry, therefore, is not whether a particular judge is or is not biased toward the petitioner; the focus is instead on whether a reasonable person would perceive potential bias or a lack of impartiality on the part of the judge in question.
Perhaps most profound in the Vance matter is this:
If the Judge has an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding, he must recuse. Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics 3(C)(1)(c).
Based on the pending federal lawsuit against him, Vance has about $25 million worth of interest in the outcome of the state proceeding before him. Still, Vance has persisted in ruling against Hayden and the trust, contrary to controlling law, ever since pilfering the case from Jefferson County District Judge Houston Brown. From attorney Burdick's renewed motion to recuse:
Vance may believe that by entering a judgment in this matter against Defendants he can affect the damages or outcome in the federal lawsuit. Whether this strategy is effective or not, the fact remains that any action taken by Vance in this matter is tainted when viewed through the lens of the pending federal lawsuit. Vance cannot help but consider what effect his actions and orders will have on the federal lawsuit. To expect Vance to rule on this matter without any consideration of the other lawsuit is unreasonable. If the Judge has an interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding, he must recuse. Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics 3(C)(1)(c).
It's rare for a lawyer to stand up to a corrupt judge in Alabama--or any other state. But Burdick has filed public documents that portray Vance in an extremely unflattering light--and supported them with evidence that shows the allegations are on target:
No reasonable person knowing all of the above-listed facts could help but question the impartiality of Judge Vance. Judge Vance has exhibited extrajudicial bias in favor of plaintiffs by (1) inappropriate ex parte communications with Plaintiffs; (2) Judge Robert Vance has accepted excessive campaign contributions from plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel and thereafter stated on the record that he had no intention of complying with Alabama statutes regarding campaign contributions; (3) he illegally usurped authority over this case and actively prevented this matter from being heard by a jury or competent court; (4) he has repeatedly ignored well established law and issued only rulings which are favorable to Plaintiffs to the extent that his rulings have taken on the tone of litigator rather than jurist.
Is Vance, in fact, acting more like a litigator, for the MCG law firm, than a judge in the Cashion matter? We will be taking a closer look at that question in upcoming posts.
That is the heart of the residents' response to Strange's motion for sanctions, filed June 5.
Strange says the lawsuit against him and Governor Robert Bentley is frivolous, has no support in the law, and was filed for purposes of harassment--and he claims the plaintiffs and their attorneys should be sanctioned under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). But Macon County residents, led by Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, argue in a reply that Strange tramples relevant law in an effort to intimidate them and avoid discovery that could shine light on his financial ties to Indian gaming interests.
Massachusetts attorney Donald LaRoche responded for the plaintiffs in an opposition to sanctions dated July 19, 2013. (See the full opposition at the end of this post.) From the LaRoche filing:
The legal claims in this lawsuit are not barred by clear and on point Supreme Court precedent. On the contrary, the actions of the Defendants in this matter are a blatant violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Defendant Strange’s Rule 11 letter, dated 4/15/2013, was designed to intimidate the plaintiffs and their counsel. This letter contained a deadline that was not cited anywhere in the rules, demonstrating Attorney General’s Strange propensity to go to any length to strong arm the plaintiffs into submission to his misinterpretation of the law.
How off target is Strange on the law? LaRoche provides plenty of answers to that question. Here are a few of them:
The plaintiffs in the instant case have filed a complaint that has more than a reasonable factual basis. As argued in both the complaint and in the opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss, there are no general laws in Alabama which relate to bingo because it can only be authorized in a particular county by constitutional amendment. . . . Attorney General Strange repeatedly states that the plaintiffs’ complaint makes claims that are not “warranted by existing law or by a non-frivolous argument extending, modifying or reversing existing law or for establishing new law.” However, the Attorney General fails to cite any existing law or conclusive precedent to support this contention.
Strange, former Governor Bob Riley, and their allies have repeatedly cited a case styled Barber v. Cornerstone Cmty. Outreach, Inc., 42 So. 3d 65, 86 (Ala. 2009) in their attacks on non-Indian gaming facilities, such as VictoryLand in Macon County. LaRoche takes an intellectual machete to that argument and leaves it in shreds:
The Attorney General cites Barber v. Cornerstone Cmty. Outreach, Inc., 42 So. 3d 65, 86 (Ala. 2009) and Ex parte State of Alabama, _ So.3d _, 20143 WL 765747 (Ala. Mar. 1, 2013) as support for this position that “the Alabama Supreme Court has addressed these ‘bingo’ amendments in multiple counties and these decisions apply statewide.” Barber v. Cornerstone only addressed the bingo constitutional amendment for Lowndes County, Amendment No. 674. . . . The bingo constitutional amendment for Lowndes County is significantly different from the Macon County bingo constitutional amendment. Most importantly, Lowndes County’s sheriff is not constitutionally delegated the authority to promulgate rules and regulations for the operation of bingo in the county as this Court recognized in Hope for Families v Macon County Greyhound Park, Inc., 721 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (M.D. Ala. 2010). The State Supreme Court also recognized in Cornerstone that they “did not adhere to the boundary lines long established in [their] precedent.” Tyson v. Macon County Greyhound Park, 43 So. 3d 587 (Ala. 2010). As such, Cornerstone is inapplicable.
Ex parte State of Alabama is the 2013 case where the Alabama Supreme Court forced Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young to approve Strange's petition for a search warrant at VictoryLand. LaRoche shows that Strange's reliance on that case is misguided:
Ex parte State of Alabama is also inapplicable here because it involved a mandamus petition related to the refusal of a circuit judge to issue a search warrant when the circuit judge determined that probable cause did not exist. . . . A determination of the existence of probable cause does not end the inquiry, it only begins it.
Finally, LaRoche shows that the plaintiffs have a firm foundation for their case, and Strange does not meet the standard required for Rule 11 sanctions:
This complaint is not replete with scandalous allegations that have no relevance to the legal claims that plaintiffs are actually trying to make, but puts forth sufficient factual matters with exhibits that are plausible on its face. The plaintiffs’ contentions are that when Defendant General 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).
|Rollins Ranch Cartersville|
The Rollins clan, from its twin bases in Atlanta and Delaware, has made billions from Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, Rollins Jamaica Ltd, and associated enterprises. For roughly three decades, the family has been fighting the proposed route for a highway between Atlanta and Rome, Georgia. Based on recent news reports, it looks like Rollins clout will seize the day.
That means this family has enough clout to make a highway change its course. Is there any doubt that the family is capable of manipulating a court case so that Ted Rollins could launch a monstrous cheat job on his ex wife, Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins, and their two daughters, Sarah and Emma. Probably with the help of his Alabama-based corporate law firm, Bradley Arant, Ted Rollins somehow managed to receive an unlawful divorce judgment that has left Ms. Rollins and the couple's daughters on and off food stamps for several years.
Officials with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) know what it's like to get into a battle of legal hardball with the Rollins family. DOT officials have said for years that the best route for the U.S. 411 connector would pass through the Rollins family's 1,800-acre ranch near Cartersville, Georgia. From a 2010 news report on the controversy:
At issue is a struggle between a family with deep pockets and philanthropic ties to the community — Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health honors the family’s contributions — and a state agency with the power to condemn even wealthy citizens’ land if it serves a public purpose.
Georgia Department of Transportation officials say they have chosen the right route for the project after thorough financial, traffic and environmental studies involving extensive public input.
“I believe that’s the most engineered, studied piece of land in the state of Georgia,” said David Doss, who represents Rome and Cartersville on the State Transportation Board. “The process has been followed to the letter of the law.”
But a new report, dated June 14, 2013, says the Rollins family likely will get the highway route that it prefers, one that bypasses its property:
The Rollins family did just about everything it could do to block a new road linking Interstate 75 to Rome and running just south of the family's vacation home and prized fishing lake.
And on Thursday the effort by the prominent Georgia clan -- which was joined by environmentalists and other nearby residents -- appeared to pay off. Gov. Nathan Deal told Rome lawmakers that building the road through Rollins' land would be tremendously costly and that the state will explore alternatives.
He also vented at the Rollins' monumental efforts, which he said were "employed to delay and ultimately divert the course of the project."
The final decision is up to the Georgia Department of Transportation, which said it is still evaluating options. But Deal's comments mean the direct route to I-75 that Rome and its 100,000 residents have long sought is mired in deeper uncertainty.
The bottom line? The general public probably will have to travel an indirect route so that the Rollins family can get its way. From the recent report:
The land would probably already have a road running through it if it were owned by anybody else. But the Rollins clan, which controls a multibillion-dollar pest control business that includes Orkin, has waged one of the most aggressive road-blocking campaigns in state history.
The family hired lawyers, strategists, engineers and scientists who lobbied to prevent highway construction on the land. Biologists contended it would endanger rare birds and wildlife. Engineers harped on potential design flaws. Attorneys persuaded officials to turn a chunk of the property into a state-recognized wilderness. And preservationists convinced the federal government to declare a nearby mine as a historic landscape called Dobbins Mountain Mining Landscape.
The latter was a key development. Deal's letter came after the Federal Highway Administration concluded that any road built near the abandoned manganese mine, which dates to the 1860s, would have an "adverse effect" on the site and urged engineers to show whether there's a better alternative.
Published reports indicate the Rollins family leans heavily Republican, with little interest in environmental or preservation issues. But it probably will take advantage of an abandoned manganese mine to win a 30-year battle over a highway project. Along the way, attorneys for the Rollins clan helped get an area planned for the GDOT route declared a wildlife refuge.
It's enough to make you think these folks are left-wing enviros. But that hardly is the case. One of their many business interests, via a company called RPC Inc. (formerly Rollins Energy Services), is hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking." In fact, RPC was among several energy firms, including Halliburton Co., that apparently violated U.S. law by using fracking fluids that included diesel fuel without a permit. From a 2011 Fox News report:
The largest users of fluid containing diesel fuel cited by the lawmakers were BJ Services, Halliburton, RPC, Inc. (RES), and Sanjel Corporation. Those companies did not respond to requests for comment.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires "fracking" companies to obtain water-quality permits when they are injecting fluids underground, but the lawmakers said that EPA has issued no permits authorizing the use of diesel fuel in those wells. No companies have applied for such permits, they said.
If the Rollinses aren't enviros, what are they? Well, they certainly are big-time landowners. They have a Web site devoted to their ranches throughout the South. Here is the Web page for Rollins Ranch Cartersville, which is at the heart of the highway controversy. The family also has massive ranches near Okeechobee, Florida (2); Voor Jaar, Florida; Griffith, Florida; Ringgold, Georgia; and Lagarto, Texas.
According to Sherry Rollins, the Rollins family is the second largest land owner in the South, behind only Ted Turner.
Is it any wonder that Ms. Rollins and her daughters got cheated in an Alabama divorce case against Ted Rollins and his family's massive treasure chest. Compared to making a highway move, that divorce cheat job must have been a piece of cake for the family that is supposed to keep your home safe from roaches.
If the clerk in question is Michael David ("David") Waters Jr., who works for U.S. magistrate T. Michael Putnam in the Northern District of Alabama, he says, "This conversation is over" and hangs up on the citizen . . . twice. (View video at the end of this post.)
That's the response I got recently when I confronted Waters with evidence that he and Putnam had a clear conflict of interest in a case styled Carol Shuler v. Infinity Property & Casualty et al (2:11-cv-03443-TMP). That's the case where my wife--we know her here as Mrs. Schnauzer--is suing her former employer for discrimination, wrongful termination, and other torts.
So far, Putnam has overseen the case, but Mrs. S has filed a document stating that she does not consent to his jurisdiction as a magistrate. That means the case will have to be assigned to a district judge, although that has not happened yet.
Why would my wife have concerns about Putnam's office handling her case? Reason No. 1 involves Putnam's clerk, David Waters Jr. Young Mr. Waters, a 2010 graduate of the University of Alabama law school, happens to be the son of Michael David Waters Sr., a partner in the Birmingham office of the national Jones Walker law firm. Kary Bryant Wolfe, one of Waters Sr.'s associates at Jones Walker, is representing Birmingham debt-collection attorney Angie Ingram, one of the primary defendants in my wife's case.
Under 28 U.S. Code 455, a federal judge or magistrate must disqualify himself "in any proceeding where his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." Could Putnam's impartiality "reasonably be questioned" in my wife's lawsuit? Perhaps a better question: How could it not be?
Putnam's clerk is the son of a partner at a law firm that represents a key defendant in the case. As we noted in a recent post, the term "law clerk" might sound like it applies to someone who fetches coffee and does filing. But in reality, law clerks often write orders and opinions for federal judges; one of the legal professions' dirty secrets is that many judges don't do their own work, handing it over for clerks to write.
Is it possible that Michael David Waters Jr. is writing orders and opinions in my wife's lawsuit that benefit a client of his father's law firm? It sure as heck is. Even if that isn't happening, the possibility that it could be, requires Putnam's recusal--and he has not stepped down after presiding over the case for about 20 months.
When I contacted Waters Jr. by phone recently and confronted him with evidence of a conflict that clearly violates federal law, he was none too pleased. You can hear the exchange in the video below.
He admits that his father works at Jones Walker, which represents a defendant in the case, but he says there is no conflict and he had nothing to do with orders in the case. All of that, of course, is irrelevant under the law. As I try to explain that to Waters, and note that the conflict never was disclosed to my wife, he says, "This conversation is over" and hangs up.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
Judge Michael Putnam and Jones Walker Law Firm Try To Keep A Conflict Of Interest Under Wraps (June 18, 2013)
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|Shelby County, Alabama|
Implied in the ruling is the assertion that Shelby County, Alabama--and places like it--are more enlightened now than they were when the Voting Rights Act was passed almost 50 years ago. So that raises these questions: What kind of place is Shelby County, Alabama, in 2013? And in terms of justice issues (such as voting), should the public be confident the rule of law will prevail in this burgeoning area south of Birmingham?
As a resident of Shelby County since 1989, I feel qualified to take a crack at those questions. What are my answers? Well, Shelby County is a prosperous, pretty place that features lots of gorgeous trees, mountains, and bodies of water--I can throw a rock from my backyard and almost hit the natural splendor of Oak Mountain State Park. The county, especially in the northern section closest to Birmingham, features numerous fine places to shop and dine, with some of the most attractive neighborhoods you will find anywhere.
But what about those pesky justice issues? In that regard, Shelby County is a cesspool. The county seat is in a little hellhole called Columbiana, and when you take one step into the city limits, it's as if you've entered a time warp and gone back to . . . oh, about 1912.
Experience has taught me that almost all of Shelby County's "justice infrastructure"--the courts, the sheriff's office, the county commission--is hopelessly corrupt. Have things improved here on the racial front since 1965? I have little doubt that the answer is yes. But can citizens of any color--especially those who somehow are seen as different, or outside the suburban, conservative mainstream--expect to have their legal rights protected? The answer is a resounding no.
I know that with certainty because of first-hand experience, which I have written about extensively on this blog. I also know from reporting on the legal nightmares of others who have been railroaded in the Shelby County "justice system."
Before I provide details about what I have witnessed in Shelby County, let's consider the words of journalist Greg Palast about yesterday's SCOTUS decision. In a piece at Truthout titled "Ku Klux Kourt Kills King's Dream . . . ," Palast writes:
The problem is not that the court majority is racist. They're worse: they're Republicans.
We've had Republicans, like the great Earl Warren, who put on the robes and take off their party buttons.
But this crew, beginning with Bush v. Gore, is viciously partisan. They note that "minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels." And the Republican Supremes mean to put an end to that. . . .
And when they say "minority," they mean "Democrat."
Because that's the difference between 1965 and today. When the law was first enacted - based on the personal pleas of Martin Luther King - African-Americans were blocked by politicians who did not like the color of their skin.
But today, it's the color of minority voters' ballots - overwhelmingly Democratic blue - which is the issue.
Palast's words resonate with me, and here is why: As a white male, I fit the primary racial mold in Shelby County. But as a liberal Democrat, married to a liberal Democrat, I am very much a political outsider. And in fighting various court battles for 12-plus years, I've learned that my status as a political outsider means my constitutional rights to due process and equal protection are subject to being trampled.
Sherry Carroll Rollins, a central figure in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, has learned a similar lesson. Her case was decided in Shelby County--even though jurisdiction was established in Greenville, South Carolina, the case was litigated there for three years, and it could not lawfully be moved--and has been the subject of dozens of posts here at Legal Schnauzer.
The victims of former Shelby County teacher Daniel Acker Jr. also suffered because of a dysfunctional justice system. Acker, the son of a long-time Shelby County Commission member, faced allegations of sexual abuse in 1992. But with a number of community groups coming to his support (especially from churches), a grand jury failed to indict him and he kept his job. Some 20 years later, Acker confessed to molesting more than 20 girls during his teaching career, and he now is serving a 17-year prison sentence.
What about my wife and me? Let's consider just one event from our experience. We've had the full ownership rights to our house stolen by a corrupt cabal of lawyer William E. Swatek, Sheriff Chris Curry, and Circuit Judge Hub Harrington. I outlined the key issues in a post titled "Going On The Attack Against The Thugs Who Stole Our House."
What was the fallout? We still live in our house, but a portion of the rights were auctioned off on the steps of the Shelby County Courthouse in May 2008, and Bill Swatek currently holds a sheriff's deed on our property--even though more than a half dozen provisions of black-letter law say that can't happen.
I explained all of this in a post that was written just hours after the auction took place. You can check it out here.
For posterity's sake, we captured the auction itself in living color. And it makes for particularly interesting viewing, in light of yesterday's SCOTUS decision that found--in so many words--that all is sweetness and light in Shelby County, Alabama.
My wife and I know that is a load of horse feces. We invite you to click on the video below and see for yourself.
(To make matters particularly surreal, the sheriff's deputy in the video below is named Bubba Caudill. I didn't make that up, and he's not a character from central casting for a Smokey and the Bandit movie. It's his real name, and he's a real deputy in Shelby County, Alabama, the place that spawned yesterday's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder.)
Analysis of Shelby County v. Holder has focused largely on a 5-4 holding overturning the Section 4 formula that determines jurisdictions to be governed by VRA, and thus causes the preclearance provisions of Section 5 to go dormant--at least until Congress arrives at a new formula.
Mostly overlooked is Shelby County's frequent use of racially charged language in its petition for certiorari review to the Supreme Court. The petition references "state sovereignty" and similar phases--and those are slightly more polite terms for "states' rights."
States' rights, of course, was the mantra that George Wallace used to wage war against federal intervention in the segregationist South of the 1960s. It also was a central part of Ronald Reagan's speech at Philadelphia, Mississippi, to kick off his presidential campaign in the general election of 1980.
Wallace and Reagan were not stupid. They knew that "states' rights" was code language that told white voters, "Don't worry about the rising tide of civil rights for black people. We will look out for your interests. We will protect you."
As we fast forward to today, this week's decision already has had an impact on a pending Voting Rights Act lawsuit brought by residents of Macon County, Alabama, against Attorney General Luther Strange and Governor Robert Bentley. The case grew from raids and closure of the electronic-bingo facility at the VictoryLand casino near Shorter. Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford and other plaintiffs contend the raids unlawfully usurped the authority of the Macon County sheriff and heaped "economic devastation" on their county.
Donald LaRoche, a Massachusetts-based attorney representing the residents, said the Shelby County decision makes his job more difficult. "This decision is only going to enable the Luther Stranges of the nation to hide their racist schemes better," LaRoche said. "We still have a valid section 2 claim, and now it's going to take a little longer to prove."
Back to the two words--"states' rights"--that have done more than any others to turn the Deep South into a solid sea of red for the Republican Party on national-election days. Those words fueled white fears and knee-jerk voting, leading to the kind of extremism that makes Congress dysfunctional and our country almost ungovernable.
Should citizens be alarmed that Shelby County, Alabama, borrows tactics from George Wallace to help break down federal protections for minority voters? Is this burgeoning, overwhelmingly Republican area south of Birmingham the kind of place that needs to be helping to set a national agenda? Does Shelby County, with a justice infrastructure that is demonstrably corrupt, have any business messing with federal issues--especially when its own courthouse, county commission, and sheriff's office are riddled with sleaze?
The answers to those questions are "yes," "no," and "hell, no."
What are some of the code words in the certiorari petition for Shelby County v. Holder? Consider this language:
Placing a jurisdiction in federal receivership raises fundamental questions of state sovereignty; and doing so selectively, absent compelling justification, unconstitutionally departs from the “historic tradition that all the States enjoy ‘equal sovereignty.’”
And consider this:
These federalism concerns are not academic. The preclearance regime has an outsized effect on the basic operation of state and local government.
That is right from the George Wallace playbook, when he declared in 1967 that the people of Alabama "have the right to decide some questions for themselves." (See video at the end of this post.)
What about Ronald Reagan's words in 1980 at the Neshoba (MS) County Fair, which was chosen to host the speech as the perfect place for winning "the George Wallace-inclined voters"? Here is a key section from a transcript of the speech:
I believe in state's rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we've distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I'm looking for, I'm going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.
I'm not the first to note the states' rights argument at the core of Shelby County v. Holder. Stephen Menendian, assistant director at the University of California's Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, noted it in an article titled "Shelby County v. Holder: What's States' Right Got To Do With It?" From Menendian's piece:
Indeed, what is so puzzling about this notion of salience of the states’ rights discourse in this case is how concerns rooted in state sovereignty fly in the face of the obvious purposes of the Reconstruction Amendments. The Reconstruction Amendments were specifically passed to abrogate states’ rights and constrain state behavior after long experience in which black Americans were systematically subjugated by those states. Moreover, even if Tenth Amendment federalism concerns were constitutionally relevant, they would be superseded in this case by the Fourteenth Amendment, which was passed later in time.
Shelby County v. Holder not only brings into focus the issue of the proper scope of Congressional power under the Fourteenth Amendment, it also seeks to examine how to balance that authority against states’ rights. Given the language, text and history of the Fourteenth Amendment, the issue of states’ rights in this context is irrelevant. Unfortunately, this Court seems to believe otherwise.
Menendian obviously saw Tuesday's ruling coming. And he is absolutely right that places like Shelby County, Alabama--with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court--are chipping away at protections of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Shelby County v. Holder, in essence, turns us back toward a time when George Wallace held sway on the national stage. That should send a chill down the spine of all thinking Americans.
At the time of his death in a fiery car crash on June 18, journalist Michael Hastings was working on a story about alleged Anonymous leader Barrett Brown. Currently under federal indictment on charges related to computer hacking, Brown is the journalist who first reported on a shadowy private security firm in Atlanta called Endgame.
The Web site freebarrettbrown.org reports that Hastings was planning to interview Brown in late June and had announced to his followers, "Get ready for your mind to be blown."
A Hastings/Brown interview almost certainly would have included questions about Brown's research on "black hat" private security firms that work with the official U.S. intelligence community. Some of these outfits also have powerful ties to corporate America via the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Primary among such firms is Endgame, which is based on the seventh floor of the former Biltmore Hotel building in Atlanta.
Before the interview could take place, Hastings was killed when his car exploded, with the engine blown some sixty feet from the wreckage on a Los Angeles street. Were individuals connected to Endgame and the U.S.Chamber--fearing possible exposure in government-sponsored wrongdoing--involved in Michael Hastings' death?
We don't have a solid answer to that question? But a report last week from Alabama attorney Jill Simpson and election-integrity specialist Jim March presents perhaps the most disturbing revelations yet about Endgame and similar private security firms. The report, dated June 24, 2013, is titled "Black Hat Versus White Hat: The Other Side of the Snowden/Hastings/Barrett Brown Cases."
Here is how March summarizes the report in a piece at OpEd News:
This is a look into the world of the private contractors that work in alliance with the official US intelligence community and appear to be state-sanctioned to commit crimes. We focus on one of these shady contractors, Endgame--an Atlanta GA corporation that both Barrett Brown and Michael Hastings were looking at. We show who they are, what they do, what their founders did before, who funds them and who they are connected to. We even filmed and photographed their building and lobby.
Simpson is best known as a former Republican operative who became a whistleblower in the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. March is on the board of directors of blackboxvoting.org and is a former board member for the Southern Arizona chapter of the ACLU.
They note the ominous meanings behind the term "Endgame" and provide background on the firm's early days. Information about the people behind Endgame can be found here, at the company's Web site:
The final moves in a chess game are called the “endgame.” It has come to the attention of American whistleblowers and election integrity specialists that the CIA, NSA and White House have designed the ultimate final “endgame” for the free world as we know it--with a group of computer “security specialists.”
One key component of this is a corporate office called Endgame, based in Atlanta, Georgia, (at the old Biltmore Hotel building, 817 W. Peachtree NW suite 770). This company is a spin-off from the major intelligence source X-Force that was founded originally by Chris Klaus whose career dates to at least 1994 when he founded Internet Security Systems, a private “white hat” counter-hacker group.
The X-Force was a team of elite cyber-security specialists who operated within ISS in an Atlanta office and made daily reports to the intelligence community and White House about Internet security and malicious software threats. They were allegedly defensive in nature, at least when they started out, and protective of US security. One of their members was Christopher Rouland who was a famous hacker who got caught attacking the Pentagon’s systems by US Airforce cyber-cop Jim Christy who gave him a “break” so long as he would work from then forward as a “white hat” cybersleuth for the US government.
What about the terms "white hat" and "black hat"? Simpson and March explain:
“White hat” in this context means defensive Internet security--fighting the “black hat” attackers. We write this in part to show that Rouland and his company Endgame have in fact gone back to “black hat” with the approval of the Federal government, doing (and facilitating for others) the sorts of attacks that the Pentagon, the NSA and the like don’t want their fingers found in.
Firms who engage in such activities apparently are not anxious to receive publicity. March went undercover to provide insight into the environment surrounding Endgame, and his work can be viewed in a video at the end of this post.
|The Atlanta Biltmore|
The HBGary hack may have been designed to humiliate the company, but it had the collateral effect of dropping a gold mine of information into Brown’s lap. . . .
The data dump from the HBGary hack was so vast that no one person could sort through it alone. So Brown decided to crowdsource the effort. He created a wiki page, called it ProjectPM, and invited other investigative journalists to join in. Under Brown’s leadership, the initiative began to slowly untangle a web of connections between the US government, corporations, lobbyists and a shadowy group of private military and information security consultants.
One connection was between Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce. WikiLeaks had claimed to possess a large cache of documents belonging to Bank of America. Concerned about this, Bank of America approached the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ directed it to the law and lobbying firm Hunton and Williams, which does legal work for Wells Fargo and General Dynamics and also lobbies for Koch Industries, Americans for Affordable Climate Policy, Gas Processors Association, Entergy among many other firms. . . .
In November 2010, Hunton and Williams organized a number of private intelligence, technology development and security contractors—HBGary, plus Palantir Technologies, Berico Technologies and, according to Brown, a secretive corporation with the ominous name Endgame Systems—to form “Team Themis”—‘themis’ being a Greek word meaning “divine law.” Its main objective was to discredit critics of the Chamber of Commerce, like Chamber Watch, using such tactics as creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” giving it to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then subsequently exposing the document as a fake to “prove that US Chamber Watch cannot be trusted with information and/or tell the truth.”
The bottom line? Barrett Brown helped expose Endgame's role in a disinformation campaign that was designed to protect the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Michael Hastings was set to interview Brown, and that almost certainly would have yielded damaging information about both Endgame and the U.S. Chamber.
Before that interview took place, Michael Hastings' car exploded.
Does Endgame welcome scrutiny about its activities? The following video helps answer that question:
Homewood attorney Rob Riley, the son of former GOP governor Bob Riley (2002-2010) had an affair with Liberty Duke, a lobbyist based in Clanton, Alabama. When Ms. Duke became pregnant, Republican insiders paid her to have an abortion and stay quiet on the subject, multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer. Total payments reportedly were in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.
Who was involved in the payment of hush money to cover up Rob Riley's transgressions? Our sources are not certain about the financial flow chart, but it appears the funds came from Alabama GOP sources rather than coming directly from Riley.
This raises a number of prickly ethical questions for a party that has consistently framed itself as "pro life" and "pro family" and against abortion rights.
Liberty Duke did not respond to a voice message seeking comment. In a series of telephone interviews with Legal Schnauzer, Riley admitted knowing Liberty Duke, but denied having an affair with her. During our conversations, Riley angrily hung up on me multiple times.
At one point, Riley claimed that he had undergone a medical procedure that would make it impossible for him to cause a pregnancy. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the procedure.
When did the affair, pregnancy, and abortion take place? We do not have an exact time frame, but Liberty Duke and her husband, William Joseph Duke, completed an unusually quick divorce in April 2006. The general time period for the affair appears to be 2005 to 2007.
Rob Riley is married to Leslie McLeod Riley, they live at 364 Lucerne Boulevard in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, and have four children. Liberty Duke has two children from her marriage to William Duke.
Riley heads the Riley Jackson Law Firm, but he perhaps is best known as a major Republican political figure in our state for almost two decades, playing key roles in his father's campaigns for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Alabama Governor's Office.
Who is Liberty Duke? For 2012, the Alabama Ethics Commission lists her as a registered lobbyist for the following entities: Benjamin Gordon Main Sr., ERIS Inc., MedImmune, and Pinnacle Networx Inc.
Alabama Secretary of State records show her as the registered agent for ERIS Inc., a consulting company that was formed in 2002, with an office address of 1155 Co. Rd. 368, Verbena, AL.
Lobbying records from 2008 show her clients as Advanced Technology Systems Inc., Benjamin Gordon Main, Sr., ERIS Inc, Omnilink, Sepracor Inc., and Town of Dauphin Island.
Here is how The National Journaldescribed Riley's stances on key "values" issues:
In 1996, when the 3rd District’s Democratic incumbent ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, Riley ran for the House. He started off little known outside Clay County, but he was a strong and energetic campaigner and an ardent conservative. He supported school prayer, term limits, tax cuts, and a balanced-budget amendment. He opposed abortion rights, gun control, and racial quotas.
Bob Riley opposed abortion rights? His opposition must not have been too strong if his son and chief campaign aide, Rob Riley, engaged in a scheme to help fund an abortion.
Riley hypocrisy hardly is limited to abortion rights. Bob Riley launched a crusade in 2008 against non-Indian gaming in Alabama, and current Attorney General Luther Strange--a Riley political ally--has continued it. But here is how we described Rob Riley's ties to gambling in a January 2013 post:
Like his father, Rob Riley long has claimed to be opposed to gambling, on moral grounds. But newspaper reports last fall showed that Rob Riley helped funnel Indian gaming money to an organization that fights non-Indian gambling facilities in Alabama. Both Riley and A. Eric Johnston, the director of Citizens for a Better Alabama, claimed they did not know the $100,000 came from Indian gaming sources. But veteran Montgomery journalist Bob Martin caught Johnston in at least one clear lie about the money, calling into question the validity of most everything he and Riley have said on the subject.
Numerous published reports indicate Rob Riley has only a casual acquaintance with the truth in his public life. Now, we learn that his personal life also has been riddled with dishonesty.
That brings us back to Liberty Duke--and we will take a closer look at the fallout from her affair with Rob Riley in a series of upcoming posts. The posts will include audio from our various conversations with Rob Riley about the affair, pregnancy, abortion, and payment of hush money.
(To be continued)
|Bull Connor's fire hoses|
Frank C. "Butch" Ellis has been a municipal lawyer in central Alabama for more than 40 years, and in 2010, he joined with Bert Rein of Washington, D.C., to launch Shelby County v. Holder. The case concluded last week with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, that found Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. (Key documents from throughout the case can be found here, at the Web site for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.)
Roberts' opinion outraged many observers on the left, who consider the Voting Rights Act to be the primary legacy of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Some went so far as to suggest Roberts and his supporters in a 5-4 ruling engaged in criminal acts when overturning Section 4.
Here is how public-interest litigator Rob Hager expressed his contempt for "The Roberts 5" at the nationofchange.org:
Yet another ruling from the legislative workshop of the Roberts 5, has now surgically overturned the landmark Voting Rights Act that redeemed the national disgrace of the criminally depraved Jim Crow era. Their surgical strike in Shelby County effectively overturns the most significant legal outcome of the Civil War; violates separation of powers; invents a new rule of “state equality” for applying federal legislation that nowhere remotely suggested in the Constitution, that was rejected by the leading precedent, and is inherently preposterous; reverses numerous precedents; decides the case of parties that were not in court instead of focusing on the case before it -- as the Constitution, Article III, requires; and rejects the very idea of applying a known objective rule to adduced facts as defines the judicial process.
Hager makes a number of powerful arguments. But for now, we will focus on the man who gave birth to Shelby County v. Holder.
Butch Ellis is with the Wallace Ellis Fowler & Head law firm, which is right across the street from the Shelby County Courthouse in Columbiana. That courthouse is home to much of the corruption I've reported on this blog, including the unlawful sale of the full ownership rights to a house that my wife and I have owned for almost 25 years. Circuit Judge Hub Harrington presided over that fiasco, but no one is more embedded in Shelby County's corrupt culture than Butch Ellis. (We even have video that captures the sleaze in living color at a post titled "Showdown in Shelby County, Part II." This is Butch Ellis' kingdom, caught on tape.)
Ellis has contended in numerous published reports that Shelby County is a changed place, that black voter turnout is high and the county is solidly integrated. But a look at Ellis' personal history should raise eyebrows. That's because it has roots in an ugly effort to support segregation and throttle civil rights for black Americans.
|Frank "Butch" Ellis|
Roughly one year later, Butch Ellis filed the federal lawsuit that became Shelby County v. Holder. And Montgomery tells Dubose that Ellis' son, County Commissioner Corley Ellis, never told him the lawsuit was coming. Writes Dubose:
In 2010, Shelby County filed suit in federal court, describing Section 5 as a federal intrusion into state issues. It is this lawsuit that will be heard by the Supreme Court at the end of this month. Montgomery learned about the County Commission’s decision to sue the Justice Department when he read it in the Birmingham News.
“As well as I know [County Commissioner] Corley Ellis—we have a friendship, not a close friendship but a friendship—I never got a heads up,” Montgomery said.
Maybe that has something to do with the Ellis family's background. Dubose explains:
Corley Ellis is the Shelby County Commissioner who neglected to inform Ernest Montgomery that the county had filed suit against the Justice Department. The Shelby County lawyer who filed the suit is Corley Ellis’s father, Butch Ellis. Butch Ellis’s father was Handy Ellis, a former lieutenant governor and the chairman of the Alabama delegation at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
With Birmingham Commissioner of Safety Bull Connor, Ellis led the Dixiecrat walkout of the convention after declaring that Alabama delegates were instructed “never to cast their vote for any candidate associated with a civil rights program such as adopted by this convention.”
Bottom line? The lawyer who filed Shelby County v. Holder is the son of a Dixiecrat, the party that nominated Strom Thurmond for president at its 1948 convention--held at Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium. And the lawyer's father was closely aligned with Bull Connor, the public official who ordered fire hoses turned on peaceful black demonstrators in 1963.
Perhaps we all should pay attention to the following words from Lou Dubose:
Faulkner’s—“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”—has been quoted so many times that it has become an exhausted cliché.
Except in places where the New South seems incapable of escaping the Old South.
In such places, those lines are as fresh as this morning’s news.
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When asked to provide a copy of his relevant medical records, Riley declined--and soon hung up on me, for the first of three times. (See video at the end of this post.)
Riley acknowledged knowing Liberty Duke, who is based in Chilton County. But he said the allegations about an extramarital affair, an abortion, and the payment of hush money amount to "an outrageous lie."
How did my initial interview go with Rob Riley? I identified myself by name and stated that I am author of the blog Legal Schnauzer--and of posts that appear at a number of national Web sites. Here is how it went from there:
Rob Riley (RR): You are the one who writes all that crap about me?
Legal Schnauzer (LS): Uh, if that's how you want to term it . . . I write a blog called Legal Schnauzer, yes.
RR: I've seen all the stuff you've written about me that's not true, and I don't appreciate it.
LS: Let me ask you this. I have multiple sources who told me you had a relationship with a woman named Liberty Duke, which led to an abortion that was paid for by the Alabama Republican Party. Would you care to comment on that?
RR: Gosh, complete nonsense. No truth whatsoever.
LS: I have multiple sources that say it is true.
RR: Who are your sources?
LS: I'm not going to tell you who my sources are any more than you are going to tell me who your legal clients are.
RR: That is an outrageous lie.
LS: You know Liberty Duke?
RR: Yeah, I know her.
LS: And she's been . . .
RR: Let me put it this way, buddy, I've never had an affair with her or anyone, period. Second of all, medical records would show that I couldn't father a child by her.
LS: Oh, really? Would you care to show me medical records? Can I have a copy of it?
RR: I'm not going to go get you my medical records. Listen, buddy, that is an outrageous lie. See ya.
(To be continued)
|Robert Vance Jr.|
Bessemer attorney Austin Burdick, representing Dr. Steven Mark Hayden of Wetumpka and the William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust, has filed a notice of appeal. Based on our review of the relevant case law, Blackburn's ruling should be overturned. That would present a rare case of a state judge being forced to answer for his unlawful acts.
Blackburn dismissed the case against Vance by citing judicial immunity, a doctrine that protects judges from liability for almost all acts taken in their judicial capacity. But Blackburn admits in her ruling that she could find no case law that was on point with the facts alleged against Vance. And she ignores a controlling Eleventh Circuit case that suggests immunity does not protect Vance on at least two grounds. (See Burdick's response to Vance's motion to dismiss, plus Blackburn's ruling, at the end of this post.)
The federal complaint grew out of a state case styled styled William B. Cashion and Western Steel Inc. v. Steven Mark Hayden, et al (Case No. CV-2012-209). 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. Acting in that capacity, Hayden established a Nevada trust to protect assets when his uncle began investing heavily in an Alabama gold mine.
Vance issued four rulings in the Cashion case, even though the matter was not assigned to him. All four rulings were favorable to Cashion and his attorneys from the Birmingham firm Maynard Cooper & Gale (MCG), which has contributed heavily to Vance's election campaigns. In fact, public records show that MCG lawyers gave at least $3,600 to Vance's most recent campaign, and that far exceeds the $2,000 threshold set by Alabama law, requiring Vance's recusal.
Central to the federal complaint are the four rulings, including a temporary restraining order (TRO), that Vance issued when the case was not assigned to him. At the time, the case had been assigned to Circuit Judge Houston Brown. Hayden and the trust allege that the unlawful TRO has kept them from nurturing the trust's principal and caused the loss of investment returns and interest totaling more than $20 million.
Did Vance act outside his judicial capacity in a way that removes the cloak of judicial immunity? The plain language of a case styled Sibley v. Lando, 437 So. 3d 1067 (11th Cir., 2005) indicates the answer is yes.
Sibley establishes a four-prong test for determining whether a judge is acting in his judicial capacity. Here is how it reads:
Whether a judge's actions were made while acting in his judicial capacity depends on whether: (1) the act complained of constituted a normal judicial function; (2) the events occurred in the judge's chambers or in open court; (3) the controversy involved a case pending before the judge; and (4) the confrontation arose immediately out of a visit to the judge in his judicial capacity. Scott v. Hayes, 719 F.2d 1562, 1565 (11th Cir.1983).
Based on allegations in the federal complaint, which must be taken as true for purposes of a motion to dismiss, Vance fails to meet prongs 3 and 4.
First, the case was not pending before Vance; at the time of his four rulings, it was pending before Judge Houston Brown. Second, Hayden and the trust allege there was no legitimate visit to Vance in his judicial capacity, certainly not one where all parties were present. From page 9 of the federal complaint:
On March 28, 2012, the conspiracy between Cashion and Vance to deprive the Trust of due process continued as an ex parte hearing was conducted wherein Judge Vance and counsel for Cashion discussed an injunction and settlement of this matter. . . .
Exhibit 8 reflects that present at the hearing were only Judge Vance, Attorney Bethay for Cashion, and Attorney Miller for Cashion.
A review of the Case Action Summary Report shows that on March 28, 2012, no Answer had been filed on behalf of the Trust and that no attorney of record had noticed an appearance on behalf of Angela Rea Hayden as trustee for the William B. Cashion Nevada Spendthrift Trust.
Neither Angela Rea Hayden nor anyone else claiming to represent the trust was present for the March 28, 2012, hearing. In fact, Mrs. Hayden has never been to the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Under the controlling law of Sibley, what constitutes a "visit to the judge" under prong 4? That is not clear, but court documents show that no one from one side of the controversy was present. Given that the case was assigned to Judge Brown at the time, and no one representing the Haydens and the trust was present, Vance appears to have been acting outside his judicial capacity. That is based on prongs 3 and 4 of the Sibley test.
Blackburn seems to acknowledge that her order dismissing the case against Vance is resting on weak legs. From page 6 of her order:
The court has found no Alabama case directly on point with the situation in this case. However, in a recent decision, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals noted that “Subject-matter jurisdiction generally lies with a court . . . and not with a specific judge sitting on that court . . . ” Ex parte Montgomery, 79 So. 3d 660.
How weak is Blackburn's reliance on Ex parte Montgomery? It's extremely weak.
First, Montgomery was a divorce case that involved facts radically different from those present in Cashion. Second, Montgomery involved orders that had been issued by both the judge assigned to the case and the presiding judge (while the assigned judge was on medical leave). Third, the appellate court rejected the husband's argument that orders by the presiding judge were void, but it did so because that issue had not been raised before the trial court; the appellate court made no definitive finding on the merits of the husband's argument. (Blackburn pulled her language from a footnote that included no support from controlling law.)
Here is the primary relevant finding from Montgomery:
Accordingly, because the husband never argued to the trial court that all orders entered by Judge Johnson were void because he did not have the authority to enter the orders, we conclude that the husband has waived consideration of that issue.
Judge Johnson was a presiding judge, acting on behalf of a judge who was on medical leave. That was not remotely the case with Vance. Even if a state case such as Montgomery were controlling law in a federal case--and it isn't--it conflicts with Sibley, which is controlling federal law within the Eleventh Circuit. The bottom line? Sibley cites two grounds upon which Vance is not protected by judicial immunity.
Blackburn likely was grasping at any straw she could find to let a judicial colleague off the hook--and she grabbed a straw that is stunningly weak and contrary to Eleventh Circuit precedent.
A serious review of the relevant law leads to only one conclusion: Robert Vance Jr. acted outside his judicial capacity in Cashion, and he therefore is not protected by immunity. That means he is subject to being held accountable for the substantial damages he allegedly caused to the Haydens and the Cashion trust.
Our coverage of the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case has taken a number of twists and turns, but the most bizarre twist might have come a few weeks back when a man contacted me and claimed to be in possession of Ted Rollins' iPhone.
What happened next apparently was an attempted scam on me, Ted Rollins, or perhaps both of us--and I suspect it might have constituted a federal crime. For sure, it was one of the strangest episodes since this blog started in June 2007--and that's saying something.
This tale even includes allegations about child pornography and child abuse, although I never received evidence that such images actually exist. (See video at the end of this post.)
It all started with an anonymous comment to a post I had written about the Rollins divorce, which involves Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins and her ex husband Ted Rollins, who now is CEO of Campus Crest Communities and a member of the mega wealthy family behind Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, and other profitable enterprises. The post in question was not new; it had been up for some time, so I was surprised to see a comment for it.
The commenter stated that he had information about Ted Rollins that might be of interest to me, so I suggested that he contact me by phone or my personal e-mail account. The man called me--with the name and number showing up as "unknown"--and told me the following story, which comes from notes I've kept on the episode:
The caller said he worked for a company that was involved in the renovation of Campus Crest's offices in Charlotte, NC. As part of the project, he said, Campus Crest discarded numerous electronic devices--phones, cameras, laptops, etc.--and told crew members that they were welcome to take any objects from a pretty large pile. The caller said he took an iPhone and one other item--a camera, I think it was.
When the man got home, he discovered that the iPhone included lots of information--contacts, e-mails, texts, photos, music, etc.--from its previous owner. After going through the material, the man discovered that the phone had belonged to Campus Crest's CEO. "I guess Mr. Rollins gave the phone to someone in IT, and they forgot to clear out everything and mistakenly put it in with the stuff to be thrown away," the caller told me.
The man said he Googled Ted Rollins' name, discovered my blog, and decided that either Sherry Rollins or I might be interested in the phone. The caller also said that he had found at least two nude photos on the phone of a young person he believed to be an under-aged member of the extended Rollins family. The man said he was concerned this might constitute child pornography and raise various criminal issues. He also said the phone included images of a boy who had a black eye and apparently had somehow been roughed up.
What happened next? We will explore that in a series of upcoming posts. But for now, these questions are foremost in my mind: Who was this guy, and what in the heck was he up to?
I don't have solid answers for either question. But I did tape record our conversations, so we know what his voice sounds like, and you can check it out at the video below.
Note: I've edited the audio to delete a name that was associated with the alleged images of a nude child.
(To be continued)
On a sidebar issue, Riley denied instigating my unlawful termination at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), even though multiple sources in the legal community have told me that Riley, in fact, was behind it.
Is Rob Riley both a hypocrite and a liar? We invite you to make up your own mind after watching the video at the end of this post.
The audio was recorded when I called Riley's office back after he hung up on me the first time. To his credit, Riley took my return call, and here is how Part II of the conversation started:
Rob Riley (RR): What's your address?
Legal Schnauzer (LS): It's 5204 Logan Drive, Birmingham, AL 35242. Let me ask you right up front, Rob, do you know something about who caused me to be fired at UAB?
RR: I don't even know you, Roger.
LS: I didn't ask that question, Rob. Do you know who caused me to be fired at UAB?
RR: No, I don't know why you were fired. Do you know why you were fired at UAB?
LS: No, I don't. Someone caused me to [be fired] after I wrote a piece about you-- mysteriously [that's when], I got fired at UAB. Aside from that, you claimed in the newspaper the other day you don''t know anything about gambling funds going to the RSLC and wound up in Alabama. Are you serious? They took gambling money from 2003, dating to the Mississippi Choctaws?
RR: No, no, I did not know that.
LS: Why do you not support gambling in Alabama? Is it on a moral basis?
LS: On a moral basis, and yet you had an affair with Liberty Duke and someone paid $250,000 for her to have an abortion. Is that correct?
Things were starting to heat up. For some reason, Riley seemed obsessed with my address and telephone number. Here's more:
RR: Listen, I've never had an affair with Liberty Duke or anybody else.
LS: I know that you did, and I'm giving you an opportunity . . .
RR: What's your phone number, buddy?
LS: It should show up there; it's 991-7438. I'm giving you an opportunity to comment. I have multiple sources close to your family who say you had an affair with her, she got divorced in 2006, and it was because you had an affair that produced a pregnancy, and you paid for her to have an abortion. Actually, my understanding is that you had the Republican Party pay for it, that you are that cheap . . .
RR: I don't know how else to say it. I don't know why you are upset because you think I had you fired at UAB. I do not . . .
LS: I'm not upset . . . I'm asking you about Liberty Duke, who you had an affair with.
RR: Can you hold on a second?
What was going to happen next? Rob Riley was about to go high-tech on me:
RR: I'm telling you right now, I'm tape recording this. I did not have an affair with Liberty Duke or anybody else. Never paid anybody for any kind of abortion, period. Now if you put that in writing . . . I'm letting you know that I'm tape recording this.
LS: I'm tape recording it, too, so I'm happy you are.
RR: Good, you're tape recording it, too. . . . I don't know who makes this crap up about me, but it is not true.
LS: I'm asking for your statement on it . . .
RR: It is an absolute, outrageous lie. Furthermore, I did not have you fired. I don't know anybody to call if I wanted to have you fired. I don't even know who you are.
At that point, I gave Riley a second opportunity to back up his assertions with facts. In our first conversation, he had claimed that medical records would show he was incapable of causing a pregnancy. When I asked to see said records, he declined. He was about to go down that path again:
LS: Would you share your e-mail accounts, so I can see that . . . Would you turn over your e-mail and phone records to prove that, plus to prove your relationship, or not, with Liberty Duke?
RR: I'm not going to let you go through my e-mails, phone records or anything else because all the crap you've written about me is a lie.
LS: OK, I'm asking for your response . . .
Once we established that Riley was not about to be forthcoming with any documents, he returned to his fascination with my address--except this time, he found the tables being turned:
RR: Let me make sure I have this address right--5204 Logan Drive, Birmingham, Alabama, 35242.
LS: That's correct . . .
RR: Roger . . .
LS: What's your address, Rob?
LS: I gave you mine, what's yours?
RR: 1944 Oxmoor Rd., Birmingham, Alabama . . .
LS: No, your home address. I gave you my home address, what's your home address?
RR: Goodbye, Roger
For the record, Rob Riley lives at 364 Lucerne Blvd. 35209, Birmingham, AL, with his wife (Leslie McLeod Riley) and their four children.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
Rob Riley Had An Affair With Lobbyist Liberty Duke, Leading To Pregnancy And Payments For Abortion (July 2, 2013)
Alabama GOPer Rob Riley Claims He Is Not Capable Of Causing A Pregnancy With Lobbyist Liberty Duke (July 8, 2013)
The overarching question in the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case might best be summed up this way: How does a woman who married into one of the wealthiest families in the United States wind up with a divorce judgment that is so viciously one sided that she and her daughters have to go on food stamps?
You apparently don't have to know any of the parties or the issues involved to have that question come to mind. I discovered that from my recent conversations with a man who claimed to have come into possession of Ted Rollins' iPhone during a renovation project at Campus Crest Communities' headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I've never been able to determine the man's identity--or if his story is 100 percent true. But from checking Ted Rollins' phone, and conducting Google searches that led to my posts about the divorce case, the man said he could tell Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins experienced an unusually cruel outcome in court. In fact, the man said, her phone number on the iPhone is listed as "Sherry 'Use Caution, Ex Wife' Rollins."
After I discussed Campus Crest's substantial support from Wall Street--which was in the neighborhood of $400 million and now exceeds $700 million--the man had an understandable response. "Here's my question," he said. "Why is the [ex] wife doing so badly, why has she been neglected? And what about the kids?" (See video below, starting at about the 3:30 mark.)
The only response I could come up with at the moment? "I guess he's just incredibly ruthless."
I went on to explain, however, that Ted and Sherry Rollins got married without a prenuptial agreement--something that apparently had never been done in the modern history of the Rollins family--and that meant Ted Rollins stood to lose major sums in an equitable distribution of marital assets. That, I told the man, probably is the best answer to your question.
We went on to discuss the ugliness in Ted Rollins' background--his conviction for assault on his stepson (then 16 years old), plus an investigation based on a citizen complaint about possible child sexual abuse of the same stepson.
Why would someone with such ugly events in his background proceed to orchestrate a monstrous courtroom cheat job on his ex wife? Why not reach a reasonable divorce settlement that would help ensure such events stayed under wraps, especially if you someday plan to launch a public company on Wall Street?
Such arrogance must be beyond the grasp of everyday folks because neither I nor my anonymous caller could come up with ready answers to those questions.
(To be continued)
Previously in the series:
How Did An iPhone Belong To CEO Ted Rollins Come To Play Central Role In Curious Con Game? (July 9, 2013)
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