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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Bentley Stench: One "penalty" was loss of pension benefits, but 1977 AL Supreme Court case shows "Luv Guv" was not entitled to retirement funds anyway

Robert Bentley mugshot
One of the penalties for former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in the plea agreement that led to his resignation turns out to be . . . well, no penalty at all. That makes the plea deal, which emitted a foul odor from the outset, smell even worse now.

A provision in the agreement was that Bentley would not receive his pension, under Code of Alabama 36-13-11. But Bentley was not entitled to receive a pension, according to a new report from Inside Alabama Politics (IAP), a subscription-based newsletter that long has dished in an entertaining and informative fashion on politics in the "Heart of Dixie."

Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks implied at a press conference after the plea deal was reached that the loss of pension benefits would be a blow to Bentley -- and would produce significant savings for the public. Neither is true, according to IAP:

One of the penalties for former Gov. Robert Bentley as detailed in the plea agreement with the State was that he would not receive his pension under section 36-13-11. In a press conference held immediately after Bentley’s guilty plea Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks told the press that rescinding Bentley’s retirement benefits saved the state more than $1 million.

“An important factor that you may not realize is that he gave up his retirement benefits. Based on a life expectancy chart we believe we have saved the state over $1 million that he could have been paid on a monthly basis for his retirement,” Brooks said.

Was Brooks blowing copious amounts of smoke up Alabama fannies? The answer is yes, and you'd think Alabama citizens would be used to that from Republicans, by now:

However, a quick reading of the footnotes by a learned lawyer would reveal that Bentley was never entitled to a pension in the first place. The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in 1977, two years after the law allowing former governors to a pension was passed, that the statute violated Alabama’s Constitution.

Bentley could ask the state for back pay and turn back on his campaign promise not to take a salary, especially since there are no political consequences anymore. But even if that were possible it is doubtful such a judgment call would fall in Bentley’s favor.

That 1977 case was styled Zeigler v. Baker, 344 So. 2d 761 (Ala. Sup. Ct., 1977). The case started with a pro se citizen complaint from a man named John Baker -- and it shows that pro se parties do no always get whacked in Alabama courts. Baker had been elected to the Alabama Senate, which almost certainly helped him get treated with a modicum of respect in court. In fact, he prevailed when the case was heard in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

John Baker, of Rainsville
(From ebay.com)
The defendants, which included Comptroller Fred Zeigler and former Governors James E. Folsom and John Patterson, appealed -- and here is how the Alabama Supreme Court summarized the case:

This is an appeal from an order of the Circuit Court of Montgomery County enjoining the Comptroller, acting Finance Director and Treasurer of the State of Alabama from making payments from public funds under the authority of Act No. 343 of the Regular Session of the Legislature, 1975. We affirm.

It's hard to imagine today's Alabama Supreme Court siding with regular citizens over powerful interests. So why did the 1977 high court affirm the lower court's ruling? Here is the gist of the issues:

The plaintiff's original complaint, which he filed in the capacity of a citizen and taxpayer, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the state's fiscal authorities on the ground that the Act contravened Section 98 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901, which provides:

"The legislature shall not retire any officer on pay, or part pay, or make any grant to such retiring officer."

Thereafter, the complaint was amended to allege that Act 343 also violated Section 68 of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 "and also on the general constitutional principle that legislatures can not [sic] appropriate money for gratuities for private purposes."

As a state senator, John Baker could not be called a "common man." But he stood up for the common men (and women) of Alabama and won resounding court victories that likely would not be possible in our corruption-saturated environment of today. (Can you imagine the Alabama Supreme Court of 2017 issuing any ruling that would deny state funds to Bob Riley and his son, Rob "Uday" Riley?)

Citizens should start a petition to get schools and other buildings named for John Baker. He reminds us that the rule of law -- and the notion that taxpayer dollars should be spent with care -- once mattered in Alabama.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Shawn Baker, of Blackwater Resources shopping-center development firm, appears at site for extramarital cheaters

Shawn and Sarah Vickery Baker
(From facebook.com)
A member of perhaps Birmingham's "first family" of shopping-center development appears as a paying member of the Ashley Madison (AM) extramarital-affairs Web site, records show.

Shawn D. Baker, a developer at Blackwater Resources, appears on the Alabama list for AM. Blackwater spun off from AIG Baker in 2010, as the latter's partnership with AIG cratered amid the Wall Street crash and the imploding Bush-era economy. Blackwater, headed by president and CEO Alex Baker, has its headquarters at 700 Montgomery Highway, while AIG Baker remains in business, based at The Village at Lee Branch, which it developed.

Based on the limited Alabama public records available to us here in Springfield, Missouri, it appears Shawn Baker is Alex Baker's son. And Alex Baker is one of the major figures in the history of shopping-center development in Alabama -- plus some 20 other states. From a bio of Alex Baker:

In 1993, Mr. Baker and AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp. (AIG Global) founded AIG Baker, then A.B. Shopping Center Properties, Inc. Mr. Baker has served as President and CEO of the company since its founding. Mr. Baker previously held the office of CEO for Polar-BEK and Baker, which is the predecessor firm of AIG Baker. He has also served as Senior Vice President for Aronov Realty Company. Mr. Baker has twenty-five years experience in the real estate industry and has been responsible for the development of over 22,000,000 square feet of retail space.

Thanks largely to Alex Baker's history, it did not take Blackwater long to become a major player in the development game. From the company's Web site:

Blackwater Resources was formed in 2010 by former executives of AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties, L.L.C. During their real estate careers, the executives of Blackwater Resources, LLC developed, leased and managed in excess of 25 million square feet of property in 36 different states. Borrowing on the experience of these seasoned professionals and their unique perspective on the market, the company was founded on the principle of seeking solid investments, opportunities and partnerships that produce enduring value and relevance, firm relationship, and optimal returns and outcomes for all parties.

Upon its formation, the company immediately procured leasing and management opportunities for over 1.6 million square feet of retail property, including several properties Blackwater Resources executives originally developed. The properties include regional power centers, grocery-anchored shopping centers and neighborhood centers. It additionally added to its portfolio recreational and residential properties, and continues to add to its portfolio by actively seeking investment, development, brokerage and management opportunities.

What does Shawn Baker do? It appears he mostly rides daddy's coattails -- and those coattails apparently are strong enough that Shawn felt secure in screwing around on Ashley Madison, even though he's married and appears to have at least two children.

Shawn Baker is married to Sarah Vickery Baker, who describes herself on Facebook as "Research Associate in Child Development and Human Relations at Baker Household." Sounds like she focuses on the domestic front. They live in a house at 7061 North Highfield Drive in the exclusive Greystone section of Birmingham. According to Zillow, the house has an estimated value of $650,099.

Based on published reports, Blackwater Resources does not appear to be out of the financial woods. According to a 4/6/16 article at The Auburn Plainsman, Blackwater is planning a 700-space parking garage, a 30,000-square-foot urban grocery and a 90–130-room boutique hotel. But Susan Hunnicutt, public-relations officer for the grassroots organization Keep Auburn Lovely, questions whether the company can pull it off:

"Five years ago they had a real string of bankruptcy projects, all of which were shopping center developments throughout the Southeast," Hunnicutt said.

According to Blackwater's website, Chairman Alex Baker founded Blackwater Resources from a previous company, AIG Baker Shopping Center Properties, along with several other former executives from the company.

Blackwater was built from what was left of AIG Baker after several bankruptcy filings in 2009 and 2010 following the Great Recession and the collapse of its equity partner and backer, the American International Group Inc., or AIG.

After over a year of untangling, Baker separated his company from AIG in spring 2010, according to an AL.com article.

But that was not before AIG Baker nearly lost two shopping centers in the Birmingham area to foreclosure: the Patton Creek shopping center — which was later sold by AIG Baker to a Miami-based real estate developer — and the Vestavia Hills City Center shopping center, which was put into bankruptcy protection in 2010 to prevent foreclosure.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed after the principal holder of the debt, Huntsville's Propst Properties, attempted to foreclose on the property, according to the article.

Alex Baker's image has taken a blow, and that has followed him to his new firm. From The Plainsman:

Chapter 11 bankruptcy often forces debt holders to renegotiate and restructure the debt of the filer, according to the article.

"If he's going to run out on his employees and his lenders, he might have no qualms about running out on the City of Auburn," Hunnicutt said.

AIG Baker also put two more shopping center properties in Deptford, New Jersey, and another called Fallschase in Tallahassee, Florida, into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, according to public records.

The predecessor to Blackwater Resources lost one of its largest properties, The Wharf in Orange Beach, Alabama, after defaulting on a loan with JP Morgan Chase Bank, according to public records.

"Once that land is gone, they can sell it to any New York or out-of-state real estate development trust," Hunnicutt said. "Those guys, they're not going to care about what's going on in Auburn. They'll put anything they want to as long as it makes money for their line-item on their investment spreadsheet."

With the family business struggling to gain footing on rocky ground, you might think Shawn Baker would be too focused on financial matters to step in personal doo-doo. But he wound up fooling around on Ashley Madison, and one can only wonder how he was stupid enough to do that.

We sought comment from Shawn Baker for this article, but he has not responded to our queries.


Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

(21) Craig Oliver, attorney, Springfield, MO (1/24/17)

(22) Craig Lowell, attorney, Wiggins Childs, Birmingham (1/26/17)

(23) Thomas Mancuso, tax attorney, Montgomery, AL (2/16/17)

(24) Nicholas Arciniegas, attorney, Washington, D.C. (2/21/17)

(25) Griffin McGahey, vice president, High Cotton USA, Birmingham (3/16/17)

(26) Matthew Couch, attorney, Cabaniss Johnson, Birmingham (3/23/17)

(27) Dr. Keron Vickers, chiropractor, Birmingham (4/4/17)

(28) D. Paterson Cope, president, wealth management, Birmingham (4/20/17)

Document suggests Lt. Christian Conrad was the Missouri deputy who brutalized my wife and broke her arm, but our research leaves some doubt about that

Christian Conrad
(From ozarksfirst.com)
Was Lt. Christian Conrad the Missouri deputy who brutalized my wife, Carol, and yanked so violently on her limbs that he shattered her left arm -- all during an eviction on Sept. 9, 2015, that was unlawful on at least four grounds?

A Probable Cause (PC) Statement from Deputy Debi Wade, which was used to bring bogus "cover charges" against Carol, suggests Conrad used such force against Carol that her broken arm required trauma surgery for repair. Given all the inaccurate information in Wade's PC Statement, we're not ready to take her Conrad information to the bank. Plus, we've found photos in the press of Conrad, and we are not sure he's the same guy who assaulted Carol and broke her arm.

That raises this question: Was someone, not named in Wade's PC Statement, actually responsible for Carol's injuries? Is the Greene County Sheriff's Office (GCSO) trying to protect someone, perhaps because he occupies a relatively high position in the department's chain of command?

We don't have answers to those questions at the moment, but we do have this, from the last sentence of Wade's PC Statement. This comes right after Wade had described her fantasy of Carol "barreling" into her and causing her to lose her balance. I was a witness to the event, and nothing like that happened. But something like the following did happen:

At this time, both Lt. Conrad and Deputy Harrison came in from either side to secure Carol's arms and place her in handcuffs.

This, and the preceding sentences, are peculiar for a number of reasons:

(1) Wade conveniently leaves out that one of the officers slammed Carol, butt-first, to the ground so violently that it likely caused (or added to) a concussion;

X-ray of Carol Shuler's broken arm

(2) Wade fails to mention that, upon bursting into our apartment, officers threw open the door, causing Carol to be slammed head-first against a wall. While putting handcuffs on her then, one or more officers banged her head against the wall multiple times. She might have sustained a concussion then, with the body slam outside, adding to it. But Wade claims Carol was the perpetrator of an assault, not the victim of one. Is it any wonder many people have zero trust in law-enforcement?

(3) Lt. Conrad doesn't have a first name, based on Wade's account. Every other person she mentions -- other than the "adviser," who has no name at all -- has both a first and last name. Why is Lt. Conrad's first name left out?

Wade does get one thing right in her PC statement: Carol's encounter with the cop thugs ended with her surrounded by three officers -- Wade, Scott Harrison, and (maybe) Christian Conrad. Here's our rundown on these three "public servants":

* Wade was the only female officer on the scene, we've run her photo several times, and we know she did not body slam Carol and break her arm;

* Harrison is the guy who apparently concocted the scenario that I had called 911 to threaten any cops who might try to evict us. He also was the one who, upon bursting into our apartment, pointed an assault rifle right at my head. He was the one who, after Carol had been placed in handcuffs (broken arm and all), drove her to the county jail. He was the one who, once someone at the jail noticed Carol was in agonizing pain, drove her to nearby Cox North Medical Center, where X-rays showed the bone in her upper left arm had been snapped in two, just above the elbow. Finally, Harrison gave Carol his card and said he was releasing her. That's how we know Harrison has sandy/reddish hair, and while he did bend down to help put her in handcuffs, he did not body slam her and yank on her arms.

Scott Harrison
(From facebook.com)
(Note: Harrison is a lying sack of feces. While Carol was in jail, he told her that he had heard the mythical 911, and it had been traced to our phone and our residence. That's impossible because Carol and I are the only ones who used our phone, and neither of us made such a call. I look forward to Harrison's response when he and his department are ordered to turn over tapes of said 911 call and any documents related to it.)

* Via Web research, we learned the GCSO has a Christian Conrad, apparently the only "Lt. Conrad" in the outfit. He is in the Springfield-area news fairly frequently. (See here, here, here, and here.) In every image we've found of Conrad, he is wearing a hat. The officer who broke Carol's arm was not wearing a hat that day, but he was wearing dark/reflective sunglasses, which made it impossible to see his eyes.

Bottom line: Conrad might be the guy who brutalized Carol, but we aren't 100 percent sure about that. We are dealing here with a thoroughly corrupt department, so it would not beyond them to put Conrad out as a straw man to protect a higher-ranking officer. We will need extensive discovery to sort all of that out.

The following is from Carol's Motion to Dismiss, which (with the PC Statement) is embedded at the end of this post:

Who is the real criminal here, the one who really did assault someone. It’s the unknown male officer who brutalized Carol. In the last sentence of her PC Statement, Wade mentions a “Lt. Conrad” and “Deputy Harrison,” who “came in from either side to secure Carol’s arms and place her in handcuffs. (“Secure” her arms? That must be copspeak for breaking someone’s arm.) The Shulers know Harrison has sandy/redish air, and he was not the one who yanked on Carol’s arm. Based on Wade’s fantastic version of events, that leaves only Lt. Conrad.

Published reports show a Christian Conrad with the GCSO. Is he the one who broke Carol’s arm? The Shulers aren’t certain. Conrad is wearing a hat in all the photos the Shulers have seen. The guy who broke Carol’s arm was not wearing a hat, but he was wearing sunglasses (ones that either were real dark or reflective; you could not see his eyes) and a light blue shirt. (Other officers were wearing black uniforms or civilian clothes.) At this point, it’s unclear to the Shulers if the officer was Conrad or someone else, perhaps someone Debi Wade has been told to protect in her PC Statement.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Head of D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management apparently checks out the wares on extramarital-affairs Web site

D. Paterson and Jennifer Miree Cope
(From facebook.com)
A Birmingham wealth manager who is pretty darned wealthy himself -- he lives in a Mountain Brook house with an appraised value of $755,000 -- appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison (AM) extramarital-affairs Web site, records show.

D. Paterson Cope heads a wealth-management firm that bears his name and is located on Cahaba Road, just off Highway 280 and near Colonial Brookwood Village. Quite a few wealthy Over-the-Mountain types apparently trust D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management with their money.

Should Jennifer Miree Cope, the money man's wife and mother of his two sons, trust him? Publicly available records from AM indicate the answer is no.

How does D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management help the rich get richer? He's a certified financial planner, by golly -- and he goes to church, tool! From the firm's Web site:

Pat has been providing comprehensive financial planning for his clients for more than 30 years. He has expertise in customizing financial plans designed to manage and preserve wealth consistently over the long term. He has earned the professional designation of Certified Financial Planner™ practitioner.

By being certified by the CFP® Board, Pat has taken the extra step to demonstrate his professionalism by voluntarily submitting to the rigorous CFP® certification process that includes highly demanding education, examination, experience and ethical requirements.

Pat is a graduate of the University of Alabama and a member of the Independent Presbyterian Church. Originally from Montgomery, he lives in Mountain Brook with his wife, Jennifer. They have two sons, Bobby and Charlie.

Here is more about Cope from his Facebook page:

D. Paterson Cope is a CFP and has had a great career as a financial consultant. His primarily focus has always been on Comprehensive Financial Planning. He is originally from Montgomery, Alabama and he graduated from the University of Alabama. When it comes to his career achievements, then he attained CFP designation in 1997. He always loves to provide financial consultancy, and he loves his career as a financial planner and consultant.

When it comes to his professional career, then there are a countless number of great events, and he has over 30 years of experience in the field. He has served approximately 45 families, and he is planning to serve 60 families, and that is the point when he will stop taking clients. At a glance, his professional career was a total success. D. Paterson Cope has over 30 years of experience in the brokerage industry, and he opened his practice in May of 2015. Before that, he spent over 20 years as First Vice President for Morgan Keegan and its successor, Raymond James.

He has a lot of work experiences, and presently, he is broker-dealer at Prospera Financial Services, and he is also an independent contractor with them and his own company named D. Paterson Cope Wealth Management.

That's some interesting information highlighted in yellow. Cope made his rep mainly from working for Morgan Keegan and Raymond James before striking out on his own in 2015. And get this: He has made enough to live in a house that probably would sell for close to $1 million, and yet he's only served 45 families -- with a goal of reaching 60 families, and that's the cut-off point.

I'm guessing D. Paterson Cope is a millionaire, maybe several times over, and he did it by handling the money for only 45 families. Who knew you could do that? I sure didn't. Something tells me Mr. Cope is highly selective about who he represents. I'm guessing Mrs. Schnauzer and I would not qualify. (In fact, Cope probably would take one look at our financial statements and spew water across the room; he might also break into an hours-long laughing fit.) I'm guessing most of our readers wouldn't qualify for Mr. Cope's services either.

Here is more professional and personal info about our financial hero, from Facebook:

D. Paterson Cope also worked with multiple giants of the financial world, and the few names included Lehman Brothers INC. New York, NY, the Robinson-Humphrey Company INC. Atlanta, GA, and J.C. Bradford & Co. New York, NY. He also has multiple certifications and state registrations. He has passed State Securities Law Exam and General Industry/Products Exam. He has multiple Licenses, and state registrations include Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

When it comes to the personal life of D. Paterson Cope, then he loves to spend time with his family. He is married to Jennifer Miree Cope, and he has two sons, Charlie and Bobby. They both are on their educational path and studying in different universities. He is also an active member of Independent Presbyterian Church. He also loves to read about the politics, and he is an avid sports fan as well.

Hmm, let's see: He loves to spend time with his family? The AM records suggest he's trying to spend time with a member of someone else's family. He loves to read about politics? Maybe he favors a certain political party. As a big-time financial planner who focuses on Birmingham's uber wealthy, I can't imagine which party that would be. And he's an avid sports fan? Is trolling for tail on Ashley Madison considered a sport now?

Here is the Facebook page for Jennifer Miree Cope, filled with family pictures and such. I'm guessing she has no idea about the "sports" her hubby engages in when he isn't trying to find new tax shelters for Mountain Brook elites.

We sought comment from D. Paterson Cope for this post, but he has not responded to our queries.


Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

(21) Craig Oliver, attorney, Springfield, MO (1/24/17)

(22) Craig Lowell, attorney, Wiggins Childs, Birmingham (1/26/17)

(23) Thomas Mancuso, tax attorney, Montgomery, AL (2/16/17)

(24) Nicholas Arciniegas, attorney, Washington, D.C. (2/21/17)

(25) Griffin McGahey, vice president, High Cotton USA, Birmingham (3/16/17)

(26) Matthew Couch, attorney, Cabaniss Johnson, Birmingham (3/23/17)

(27) Dr. Keron Vickers, chiropractor, Birmingham (4/4/17)

Missouri deputy claims in probable cause statement that I threatened to shoot any officers who might evict us -- but gives no clue about origins of that claim

Deputy Debi Wade
A Missouri deputy claims in a Probable Cause (PC) Statement that I had threatened to shoot any officer that attempted to evict my wife, Carol, and me. How did Deputy Debi Wade know that when you consider that I've never spoken with her, and prior to our eviction on Sept. 9, 2015, I had never spoken with anyone from the Greene County Sheriff's Office?

Maybe Wade was advised of this "fact" by the same unnamed party -- we've called him a ghost, an entity from the spirit world -- who advised her that my wife, Carol, had pushed Deputy Jeremy Lynn as he burst into our apartment to begin an eviction that was unlawful on at least four grounds.

Either way, Wade's statement raises the specter of a mythical 911 call, which I never made, but it keeps popping up in this matter anyway.

Wade's PC Statement was the basis for Carol's arrest in January on charges of trespass and assault of a law enforcement officer. Wade's account of actions regarding Carol are mostly fantasy and don't even make sense. But the deputy was not content to stop there; she also had to make false statements about me.

That raises more questions about Wade's credibility than already were present -- and it means I might have grounds for civil claims against her -- and anyone else responsible for perpetuating the myth of a 911 call. This is from Wade's PC Statement:

We were there to execute on an eviction for Roger Shuler at this address. After the initial service, Shuler made threats to shoot any officer that attempted to evict him from his residence, so we took more officer than normal to execute on the writ.

Notice that Wade seemingly pulls this statement out of the sky, from the ether, if you will. It isn't attributed to anyone, but she states it as fact, in a sworn document that plainly shows false statements are "punishable by law." A few obvious questions:

* The only way Wade could accurately testify about such a statement would be if I made it directly to her. But I didn't, and she makes no attempt to claim I did. So where did it come from?

* Is Wade claiming I said this to another officer, who then "advised" her on the matter? If so, that would be both false and hearsay?

* Is Wade saying a third party claimed to have heard me make such a statement and passed word to deputies or other authorities? Again, this would be both false and hearsay. I don't claim to be an expert on the law in this area, but I would think the lawful definition of a threat would require that the statement be communicated directly to the person or entity being threatened. If a third party -- a "friend," family member, a bus boy at a restaurant -- claims to have heard something . . . well, that does not seem to constitute a threat; it's just hearsay. In this instance, the sheriff's department took no action to investigate, never checked with me about anything, indicating they knew there was no threat or they didn't take it seriously.

As for a third party reporting such a "threat," they might be at risk of a civil claim for defamation or invasion of privacy -- or both.

We touched on the threat issue in Carol's Motion to Dismiss Charges, filed on March 14. (The motion and the PC statement are embedded at the end of this post.)

Roger Shuler states as follows: “Prior to 9/9/15, I never had been in Debi Wade’s presence, so she could not have heard such a statement from me. I’ve never owned a firearm and have no recollection of ever threatening to unlawfully shoot anyone, much less an officer. In the days leading to our eviction date, I received an email from my brother, David Shuler, a lawyer in Springfield. He stated that a Deputy Scott Harrison had contacted him and said dispatch informed him that I had placed a call to 911 and threatened to shoot anyone who tried to evict us, or words to that effect. On 9/9/15, after I had been handcuffed and led outside, several officers referenced such a 911 call. I’ve never called 911 in my life, and I certainly did not place such a call, as described by David Shuler to me. If such a call actually was made to 911, it was made by someone else, from a phone other than the one Carol and I share. I would be glad to provide an affidavit on this matter, if the court deems that necessary.”

There is the mythical 911 call again. That is where my alleged threat supposedly originated. But I never made a 911 call, and Debi Wade makes no claim that I did.

Do I have a defamation claim against Debi Wade -- and anyone else who contributed to publication of information about a threat I did not make? I'm studying Missouri law on that issue now, but I've found case law that indicates the answer is yes. In some circumstances, testimony related to court proceedings is privileged and cannot be the basis of a defamation claim. But a probable cause statement is not the same as court testimony or statements made in court documents.

Wade's statements are particularly dubious since they were made about someone who was not the subject of the PC statement. Cops were seeking to bring bogus charges against Carol, so there was no reason to mention me at all. The PC statement says I did nothing wrong during the eviction, and the only wrongful conduct alleged against Carol came from Debi Wade's fertile imagination.

We will continue our research, but I suspect Debi Wade has left herself open to a defamation charge -- as has anyone who passed false information along to her.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Photographer catches mystery woman Patti Austin and "Luv Guv" Bentley taking in the festivities at Donald Trump Inauguration in D.C., with "Drinking Guy"

"Luv Guv" Bentley and Patti Austin
(From Inside Alabama Politics)
We recently reported on Patti Jackson Austin, the Baldwin County real-estate agent and "mystery woman" who accompanied former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on a state airplane to the Trump Inauguration in January. Now, we have photographic evidence that Ms. Austin and the "Luv Guv" were mighty chummy while in Washington, D.C.

Unlike John Archibald of al.com, we don't take credit for breaking stories that others actually broke. On the Austin story, we were the first to identify her as Bentley's "guest" -- so I guess we deserve partial credit for breaking it. But we were not the first to report on the gist of the story. And we certainly were not the first to provide photographic evidence of the pair at a Washington gala.

That honor belongs to Inside Alabama Politics (IAP), the venerable subscription-based newsletter that has been dishing dirt and landing scoops on state politics for years. As you can see from images above and below, the nosy folks at IAP (I like nosy folks) landed proof that Bentley had a lovely guest on his arm. And it wasn't Rebekah Caldwell Mason -- although she and husband Jon also were on the state plane, and surely were in the immediate vicinity when these photos were snapped.

Here is one problem with the photos: A guy who seems to have a serious drinking problem is caught guzzling beer in both shots. We don't know if this was an intentional "photo bomb" or he just happens to be the "Forrest Gump of the Washington social scene."

Either way, the photo at top catches Ms. Austin looking back over Bentley's right shoulder toward the photographer. One senses that she is not thrilled to see a photographer nearby. One also senses the photographer is trying to take the snaps on the down low, perhaps explaining why he didn't tell "Drinking Guy" to get the hell out of the way.

Austin, Bentley, and "Drinking Guy"
From Inside Alabama Politics
In the second photo, Ms. Austin barely can be seen behind Bentley's left shoulder. It's as if she's doing her best to hide from the photographer. Meanwhile, "Drinking Guy" is in the foreground, apparently determined to wind up in a gutter by 2 a.m. (Maybe he's a liberal who was trying to get blotto in an effort to forget who was being inaugurated; can't blame him there.)

Here is the IAP news item that accompanied the photographs:

Last week Inside Alabama Politics broke the story Governor Robert Bentley had a date accompany him to Washington D.C. for the inauguration festivities of President Donald Trump. Also along on the flight to D.C. was the Governor’s 44-year-old alleged mistress Rebekah Mason and her husband Jon. When questioned by the media Bentley has only referred to his mystery date as an unnamed special guest and has declined to release her name. IAP has since learned she is a 54-year-old real estate agent from Orange Beach, we have decided not to identify her by name. She is pictured below (looking strikingly similar to Rebekah) at one of the inaugural parties with the Governor along with an unknown beer guzzling photo bomber.

What's with this idea of not identifying Ms. Austin, by name? IAP obviously knew who she was, name and all. What's the fun in not naming her?

We have to consider that a journalistic fumble on IAP's part, so we were happy to pick up the loose ball and run with it. But we give props to our colleagues for being the first to get the general story out there -- especially with photos.

For now, we only can hope someone has helped lift "Drinking Guy" out of the gutter.

Neil Gorsuch shows that judges' primary interest is to side with their colleagues, and Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins is exhibiting such behavior in Alabama now

Virginia Emerson Hopkins
(From al.com)
Trump SCOTUS appointee Neil Gorsuch stated during his confirmation hearings that he had participated in 2,700 appellate cases, and 97 percent of those resulted in unanimous rulings. “I was in the majority in 99% of the cases,” he added.

Gorsuch meant this to sound good. But a leading judicial critic says it actually is bad for the public, "Gorsuch values getting along with his 'brothers and sisters in the robe' higher than getting justice done," says Dr. Richard Cordero, Esq., founder and director of New York-based Judicial Discipline Reform (JDR). The Web site is described as "A study of judges' unaccountability and consequent riskless wrongdoing; how to expose it and bring about judicial reform."

We now are seeing behavior in the Northern District of Alabama that suggests Cordero is on target -- and the self-protective behavior he describes goes way beyond the 10th Circuit, where Neil Gorsuch once resided.

Consider what has happened in our "House Case," involving wrongful foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham, multiple constitutional violations, and state-law claims such as defamation and tortious interference. District Judge R. David Proctor, with documented and long-standing ties to perjurious Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions, summarily dismissed our case (meaning no discovery was conducted) in a memorandum opinion that includes violations of black-letter law on roughly a dozen key issues. Proctor's ruling, at least for now, has given a free pass to a number of Alabama's right-wing political operatives, several of them, like Proctor, closely tied to Sessions -- plus a number of deep-pocketed corporate entities, including Chase Mortgage and Hearst Corporation.

After issuing his dismissal order, Proctor admitted that he had a conflict. (One of his sons had worked for new U.S. Senator Luther Strange, a defendant in the case; the same son also had worked for Sessions, the man Strange replaced.)  But Proctor claimed, contrary to available evidence, that the conflict arose only after he had dismissed our case.

"The House Case," a term we use to distinguish it from "The Jail Case" (re: my wrongful arrest and five-month incarceration in Shelby County, Alabama, because of my reporting on uncomfortable truths about the state's GOP political machine), wound up in the lap of a Proctor colleague, U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins.

In the few weeks she's had the case, Hopkins has proven to be a female version of Neil Gorsuch -- her interests clearly are in protecting R. David Proctor, and they have nothing to do with justice. We had filed a Rule 59 Motion to Alter or Amend Proctor's dismissal, and Hopkins dismissed it with virtually no explanation. We filed a Rule 60 Motion to Vacate Proctor's orders because evidence shows he had conflicts that disqualified him from hearing our case, from the outset. Hopkins dismissed that, with a ruling that was as sloppy as it was void of any legal reasoning.

How alarming is this judicial back-scratching behavior? How does it harm the public? Dr. Richard Cordero answers those questions, and much more, with a recent article titled "How Judge Neil Gorsuch and his peers dismiss 99.83% of complaints against them and dispose of 93% of appeals with reasonless decisions." (The full article can be read via a link at the end of this post; also, Cordero participated in a 2015 international symposium on justice issues, and a related video can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Dr. Richard Cordero
(From linkedin.com)
Gorsuch, Cordero writes, confirms Administrative Office of U.S. Courts (AO) statistics "that show that circuit judges dispose of 93% of appeals in decisions “on procedural grounds [e.g., “for lack of jurisdiction or jurisdictional defect”], by consolidation, unsigned, unpublished, without comment.”

We've experienced this in the Eleventh Circuit, where both "The House Case" and "The Jail Case" are pending on appeal. We've also experienced what tends to happen with cases that wind up in appellate courts. Writes Cordero:

The majority of these decisions are reasonless, fiat-like summary orders. They fit the front side of a 5¢ form, with one rubber stamped operative word, mostly ‘the decision below is Affirmed or the motion is Denied’. They express the morphed judges’ pro-forma justice: 'However things were, we leave them so. Next!'

The rest of those 93% decisions have an opinion so arbitrary, ad-hoc to reach a convenient result, or unlawful that they may not be relied upon in other cases; so they too are marked “not-precedential,” which is anathema to our system of common law based on precedent. Only the remaining 7% of decisions are signed, published, and intended to pass the scrutiny of the media, be discussed in law journals, and included in law school casebooks to establish the author’s reputation.

How does this affect human beings, especially those parties who go before the courts without being connected to corporate, institutional, or other moneyed/powerful interests? They get cheated -- and many of them probably don't even know it. Writes Cordero, of Gorsuch's behavior on the bench:

What criteria does Gorsuch use to treat parties so unequally: dumping their appeals with a meaningless decision or sweating it out on a meaningful one?

In fact, he also bragged that in 99% of his cases he had been in the majority. This means that in only 1% of them he felt so strongly about the issues or the parties to go to the trouble of dissenting, thus being in the minority. Nevertheless, he remained a typical judge within the norm, for the 2% of cases where it was one of the other two panel members who dissented can be distributed equally by allocating 1% to each of them.

For him and his peers getting along with each other and taking it easy with 93% of appeals are more appealing attitudes than a principled discharge of their duty. The latter requires reading the briefs, doing legal research, and coming to the panel conference prepared to advocate “a result compelled by the law”, which he said a good judge pursues.

No wonder he shied away from the exacting and socially lethal action of denouncing any of his peers or even protesting publicly their systematic dismissal of complaints against them, which would have entailed a lot of controversy and led to his peers outcasting him as a traitor.

The U.S. Senate proceedings that led to Gorsuch being seated on the nation's highest court mostly involved philosophical questions that the nominee neatly sidestepped. Senators asked almost nothing about "back scratching" issues that rob the public of judges' honest services. Writes Cordero:

The Senate’s debate should concentrate on the pro-forma justice that Gorsuch and his friends provide to parties and the rest of We the People.

So the question for the senators to ask before voting on Gorsuch is not whether what got under his skin in that 1% of cases in which he stood up for something other than his camaraderie with his peers was a big corporation or a little guy.

Rather, it is how he could claim commitment to rule of law results, never mind integrity, although during the past 11.5 years on the bench he has seen his peers dismiss on average one complaint a week of those 573 against them, but has simply looked the other way or even joined the other bullies in abusing their judicial power to silence complainants by resorting to false pretenses to dump their complaints.

Why did he tolerate, or participate in, the cheating of parties out of the meaningful appellate service to which their payment of the filing fee entitled them contractually?

By ensuring his and his peers’ unaccountability, they have abused their independence to provide themselves an irresistibly tempting and impenetrable cover for their riskless wrongdoing.

Close to home, here are the questions: Were we deprived of Judge Proctor's "honest services"? Absolutely. Is Judge Hopkins covering for her colleague's corrupt actions, with no regard for justice? There is no doubt about it.

We will show you in upcoming posts exactly how she is doing it.

(To be continued)

Full article: How Judge Neil Gorsuch and his peers dismiss 99.83% of complaints against them and dispose of 93% of appeals with reasonless decisions

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Paul Alan Levy, lawyer who works for Ralph Nader's nonprofit, helps violate my attorney-client confidentiality and proves to be a monumental asshole

Paul Alan Levy
(From rcfp.org)
Less than 24 hours after my release from jail in March 2014, I began to see signs that Birmingham lawyer David Gespass had violated attorney-client confidentiality -- and stabbed me in the back, in the process.

On March 27, 2014, the day after my release the previous evening, I sent an e-mail to Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer with Public Citizen, a D.C.-based nonprofit founded by Ralph Nader, with the stated purpose of helping regular citizens fight injustice brought by the wealthy and the powerful. It took only a few minutes for Levy to prove to me that he didn't stand for anything upon which Nader had built the organization. Here was my introductory e-mail to Levy, which I thought was lucid and well stated for someone who had just spent five months unlawfully incarcerated in the Shelby County Jail:

Mr. Levy:

I am a journalist/blogger in Alabama, and I was released from jail yesterday after being incarcerated for five months because of a preliminary injunction in a defamation case. It's all very similar to Dietz v. Perez, and I thought it might be of interest to you. I need legal representation and wanted to see if we could talk. My case has been widely covered in the NY Times, Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and many other news outlets, and even right-wing commenters seem to acknowledge that the injunction without a trial (in fact, without any discovery at all) is wildly unconstitutional.

I would appreciate any insights or guidance you can offer.

Best regards,

Roger Shuler

I thought I showed Levy plenty of respect. Did he return the favor? Not exactly, although he did take only 21 minutes to respond:

From what you say, you must be the guy who was enjoined and simply refused to comply with the injunction, and, from what I have heard from others, you were also too pigheaded to accept sound advice. Not a very attractive client for pro bono work!

In any event, we don’t handle defamation cases on the merits at the trial court level, so perhaps it depends what representation you are seeking.

As I noted in our previous post in this series, Levy came across as one of the biggest assholes I've ever encountered. You can see how I reached that conclusion. His "I have heard from others you were also too pigheaded to accept sound advice" was particularly interesting. He seemed to be referring to legal advice, and the only person who had given me legal advice regarding my incarceration was David Gespass.

Levy was not done being an ass. Here is how our conversation continued, with a response from me:

Thanks for your response. I don't think some of your assertions are correct, but I appreciate you getting back with me.

I decided I probably was showing Levy way more respect than he deserved, so I followed up:


A few thoughts come to mind that might be worth making:

* My wife and I never were served with the temporary restraining order, and a lawyer who has seen the file indicated to me the record shows that. It's hard for me to know because the record was sealed until well after my arrest.

* We received notice of the preliminary injunction hearing barely 24 hours before it was to be held. That is insufficient notice under Alabama law, which contemplates notice that allows for calling of witnesses, introduction of evidence, etc.

* I challenged service, which seemed to be the first order of business considering that we received papers during a dubious traffic stop. I was arrested before receiving an order on the motion to quash and before having an opportunity to address the preliminary injunction.

* I assume you are referring to advice I received while in jail, just a few days after being arrested, beaten, and maced in my own home. I hope you can appreciate that meeting with an attorney under such circumstances is difficult. It also was difficult for the attorney. The file was sealed, so he had virtually nothing to review and had to go to the other side to get court papers. Everyone who has seriously looked at the case, from all political sides, seems to agree that the preliminary injunction is unconstitutional, so I was having to seek advice while unlawfully incarcerated. Imagine if Ms. Perez had been hauled into jail, and you'd had to meet with her under those circumstances. It probably would have complicated things for both of you. In my case, I think it's more a matter of being traumatized than being pigheaded.

* Finally, all the evidence I've seen indicates I was arrested on an unsigned warrant. It appears such a warrant is "utterly void" under Alabama law. From Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975):

Often rules relating to arrest warrants parallel those applying to searches and vice versa. Significantly unsigned arrest warrants have been held void. Oates v. Bullock, 136 Ala. 537, 33 So. 835 (warrant utterly void).

Again, I shouldn't have been having to discuss complex, constitutional issues with a lawyer while incarcerated. It makes for a very uneven playing field. Hope you will find these thoughts worth considering.

Best regards, 

How did Levy respond to that? With absolute silence. You will notice, however, that he did not deny he was referring to legal advice I received in jail, which could only have come from David Gespass. Levy appeared to be acknowledging that my right to client-confidentiality had been violated.

That was the end of that exchange, but Paul Alan Levy and I were not finished with each other. I had occasion to communicate with him one other time -- and he proved to be as big an asshole the second time as he was the first time.

(To be continued)

Robert Bentley's claim that Paul Bryant Jr. was "using" him suggests the Crimson Tide football boss was connected to the scandal that brought down a governor

Paul Bryant Jr.
(From Bloomberg Markets)
An oblique reference to Paul Bryant Jr. in an impeachment report indicates the businessman and University of Alabama sports honcho might have been connected to the sex/money scandal that brought down Gov. Robert Bentley.

Bryant was a major financial backer when the Tuscaloosa-based Bentley ran for governor. But the relationship must have soured because a recently released impeachment report quotes Bentley as saying Bryant was among several power brokers who were "using" him. Others included in the quote were Clay Ryan, vice president for governmental affairs and special counsel at the University of Alabama, and Bill O'Connor, a political consultant and former president of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) who became a Bentley insider, with close ties to Chief of Staff Seth Hammett.

Bentley's comment about Bryant is buried on page 86 of the impeachment report, and to my knowledge, has received no attention in the press. (The full report is embedded at the end of this post.)

The comment came after Bentley had dispatched Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) chief Spencer Collier to meet with the governor's scheduler, Linda Adams, to find out what she might know about tape recordings of a steamy conversation between Bentley and his adviser/mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason. The meeting with Collier left Adams shaken, and Bentley brought it up with her in a subsequent meeting. From the report:

About a week later, on routine business in Governor Bentley’s office, Governor Bentley asked Adams if Collier had come to see her on election night. She replied: “Yes, sir, he did, and I don’t appreciate it.” Governor Bentley said: “I sent him.” Adams asked Governor Bentley: “Do you not trust me?” Governor Bentley replied: “Oh, no, no, no Linda, it’s nothing like that.” Adams says that Governor Bentley told her that his family was turning against him and that Paul Bryant, Clay Ryan, and Bill O’Connor were “using” him. Adams ended the conversation by telling Governor Bentley, “Governor, there are a lot of people using you.”

The governor is telling a key aide that two top-of-the-food-chain officials from the University of Alabama and a former president of the BCA are "using" him. How could those individuals "use" the governor? Were they using him for their personal benefit, for the benefit of the university and certain business interests? Did their "use" of Bentley involve Rebekah Caldwell Mason?

O'Connor reportedly told security chief Wendell Ray Lewis, ""We created Rebekah, but it wasn't to sleep with the Governor."

Who exactly is "we," and why did they create Rebekah Mason? That is one of many questions lingering over the Bentley scandal, even after he is gone from office.

Monday, April 17, 2017

John Archibald uses Rachel Maddow platform to perpetuate myth he broke "Luv Guv" Bentley story, producing LOL moments for Peter B. and me

John Archibald, discussing the Bentley scandal on MSNBC
What are the chances a print journalist would go on national television and admit he did not break a story he has been given credit for breaking? That is one of several questions related to the resignation of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley that San Francisco-based radio host Peter B. Collins and I discussed in an interview last week.

Our questions ran from the probing to the absurd, and Collins and I decided the above question fell into the latter category. In fact, we were thinking along the same lines, and when that realization hit, it presented an LOL moment for both of us.

On a serious matter, Collins proved prescient about the direction any post-Bentley investigation might take. In fact, he essentially predicted the "no probable cause" finding on the "Luv Guv's" adviser and mistress Rebekah Caldwell Mason, two days before it happened.

At the heart of our journalism discussion was al.com columnist John Archibald, who had appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show the night before and accepted credit for breaking the Bentley-scandal story -- which, of course, we broke here at Legal Schnauzer. This is not the first time this has happened on the Maddow Show, as she has been by far the most prominent journalist to shine a regular spotlight on the state of "affairs" in the Bentley administration.

To my knowledge, Archibald never has appeared on the show and said, "I broke the Bentley/Mason "Luv Guv" story." (Perhaps that's because he knows he didn't.) But he never corrects Maddow when she gives him credit for breaking it and heaps praise on both him and his ethically challenged "news organization." That led to the following exchange between Peter B. Collins and me.

Peter B. Collins (PBC) -- Maddow gave John Archibald full credit. Archibald himself didn't bother to say, "Well, you know, there was a blogger . . . "

Legal Schnauzer (LS) -- laughing . . . I can't help laughing because I thought of this same scenario.

PB -- Go ahead and laugh all you want, you deserve it. Here's Archibald being treated like a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and he doesn't have the good judgment and generosity to say, "Well, some other people broke the story, and I'm riding on their coattails."

LS -- I've imagined that same scenario -- and knew he wouldn't do it, wouldn't have the integrity to correct Rachel on the air and say, "I have reported on it, but I didn't break it, and my organization didn't break it, and for seven months we tried to squelch it. He said [my story] was "smoke" and "no fire, no facts, no proof." That's what's really galling. He not only didn't break it, he was seven months behind the curve . . .

PB -- And he was carrying water for Bentley!

As for Peter B's ability to foretell the future, consider this comment, made two days before the "no probable cause " finding on Rebekah Caldwell Mason:

PB -- My guess is . . . the way these things typically roll, now that [Bentley] has resigned, they will put it in a steamer trunk and bury it. There is no appetite to go further.

Talk about nailing it. Here are some other highlights from our discussion, where we either nailed it, missed it, or tried to act like we knew what we were talking about:

About Heather Hannah and her role as a hero in the Bentley scandal

LS -- For your listeners who might be football fans, she's the niece of John Hannah, who played for the New England Patriots and many consider to be the best football player to come out of the University of Alabama. . . . Bentley was attacking a member of what might be called "The First Family of Alabama football." Shows how stupid Bentley was. She's a very young woman, but she stood up to [the governor] and is a real hero in this.

On similarities between Heather Hannah's experiences and those of my wife, Carol, and me

LS -- As we read about Heather Hannah's experience, it was like having flashbacks. Bentley was trying to have her arrested, and we were arrested. She had vandalism at her home, which we had in the midst of our problems with the neighbor who has a criminal record. She had a rock thrown through her window, and we had a metal measuring tape thrown through ours. She had death threats written on her car, and we had death threats. 
I thought, "My God, this sounds a lot like what we went through. The big picture is the misuse of law enforcement. This young woman did not do anything like a crime. They were trying to get her on a criminal eavesdropping statute, but Dianne Bentley was the one who placed the recording device. And she had every right to do that, as co-owner of the property. You can put an eavesdropping device in your own home.

On the roaming eyes of Southern "Christians," and how the "Luv Guv" Scandal was broken

LS -- These people, it's like they eat hypocrisy for breakfast. [Bentley] and his wife had been married for 50 years, and that's how the whole story started; she filed for divorce.  . . . I talk about breaking the story, but to be honest, it wasn't a great act of shoe-leather journalism on my part. The minute Mrs. Bentley filed the divorce complaint, I had people -- who I knew were knowledgeable on politics -- calling me. All I had to do was sit there and listen. The story came to me more than the other way around. 
Peter B. Collins
 PB -- Was it like fishing on a trout farm, Roger?
LS --  Yes! I put a worm on my hook, and next thing I know, I started reeling them in. If I did anything right in all of this, these people knew they could call me, and I would listen and take it seriously. You call al.com with a story about a Republican, and they just stick it in the desk drawer.

On my reporting about the Ashley Madison scam, and how it relates to the "Luv Guv" scandal

LS -- "I was astonished when reporting on the Ashley Madison story, how many familiar names I saw . . . "That guy's head of a bank" or "That guy's head of an engineering company. I tracked it down because I know the zip codes -- and the areas of town called Over the Mountain in Birmingham, where people with money and who vote Republican tend to live. 
"It's very two-faced. One of the first things Bentley did, on his Inauguration Day, was to say, "If you haven't been saved by Jesus, you aren't my brother, and I want to be your brother -- something outrageously stupid like that. Everybody thought, "He's a harmless grandpa, how much harm can he do?" Grandpa has impure thoughts, as it turns out."

On the price paid for reporting on conservative corruption in Alabama

LS -- I broke the Bentley story on August 31, 2015, and nine days later -- we were living here in Springfield, Missouri, by that time because our house basically had been stolen in Alabama due to a wrongful foreclosure, and we wound up here, where I grew up -- but nine days after I broke the story, we were the subjects of a terrifying eviction that was unlawful. Carol had her arm snapped like a twig, and deputies pointed an assault rifle at my head. You wonder, when that happened so close together, if the Bentley team had something to do with it. It's been reported in several places that Bentley used state and federal criminal databases to look up dirt on me. . . . That's an example of the blow back you can get. These Republicans in the South, it's a lot like organized crime. 

On possible criminal exposure for Rebekah Mason -- despite the "no probable cause"  finding

LS -- Usually, prosecutors cut a deal with the lower-level person to get them to testify against a person higher up the food chain. In this case, it seems to be working in reverse. I don't know what will happen with [Mason] or other underlings. But in a real justice system -- which Alabama does not have -- she would have significant legal exposure.
On a personal level, if someone on their behalf targeted Carol and me, we are going to be looking at a lawsuit. And they already are facing several lawsuits.
The big issue with this plea deal is they didn't respond to investigative requests. Hardly any e-mails or text messages were turned over. In the digital world, that's where many crimes now are revealed. They've gotten away with a cover up, so far. 

On the racism and classism that drive postmodern political corruption

LS -- We live in a country right now where if you are white and conservative, you get away with stuff. If you are white or black and liberal, watch out. The whole 14th Amendment stuff about equal protection and due process becomes a joke. That's been the theme of my blog for 10 years.