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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Massive Law Firm Is Exposed For Overbilling Clients, Shining Light On a Profession's Nasty Underbelly


Jesse P. Evans III
The legal world is aflutter this week over a New York Times report about a large law firm's habit of grossly overbilling wealthy clients. One progressive news site said the story proves that "when the 1 % aren't scamming the rest of us, they are fleecing each other."

But the story does not end there. I know from first-hand experience, and from reporting on cases of other everyday Alabamians, that lawyers make a habit of stealing from non-wealthy clients, too. They just go about it in a little different way.

With middle-class clients, it might not be a matter of direct overbilling. Rather, lawyers will bill steadily while hiding the fact that they are not representing their clients' best interests. Such lawyers have a legal duty to zealously represent the person who is paying them, but instead they are more concerned with the desires of the judge, opposing counsel, the local bar, or maybe all three.

As opposed to "overbilling," you might call this "underlawyering." The client thinks he is being represented--after all, he's paying the bills--but he really isn't. And he's likely to get a lousy outcome, the one chosen for him by what I call "the legal tribe."

Whatever you call them, overbilling and underlawyering amount to glorified theft. And we learned this week that it probably happens in the legal world far more often--and in a much more brazen fashion--than most of us might imagine.

You can rest assured the legal tribe never intended for this issue to make national headlines. But it all started when DLA Piper, which bills itself as the world's largest law firm, sued a New York businessman named Adam H. Victor for $675,000 in legal bills. Victor, an energy-industry executive, fought back by filing a counterclaim and accusing the law firm of a "sweeping practice of overbilling."

Discovery in the counterclaim showed that Mr. Victor was on target. Internal correspondence from DLA Piper revealed lawyers joking about the firm's habit of cheating its own clients. From reporter Peter Lattman, of The New York Times:

Mr. Victor’s feud with DLA Piper began after he retained the firm in April 2010 to prepare a bankruptcy filing for one of his companies. A month after the filing, a lawyer at the firm warned colleagues that the businessman’s bill was mounting.

“I hear we are already 200k over our estimate — that’s Team DLA Piper!” wrote Erich P. Eisenegger, a lawyer at the firm.

Another DLA Piper lawyer, Christopher Thomson, replied, noting that a third colleague, Vincent J. Roldan, had been enlisted to work on the matter.

“Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard ‘churn that bill, baby!’ mode,” Mr. Thomson wrote. “That bill shall know no limits.”

"Churn that bill, baby!" might become the equivalent of "Remember the Alamo!" for citizens who are fighting unscrupulous lawyers. And I know what such a fight is like--I've spent more than 10 years on the front line.

As regular readers know, the legal headaches for Mrs. Schnauzer and me began when a troublesome neighbor named Mike McGarity, he of the extensive criminal record, filed a bogus lawsuit against me over a property-related matter. I hired Jesse P. Evans III, a Birmingham lawyer who is noted for his expertise in property law--in fact, he has written a textbook called Alabama Property Rights and Remedies. At the time, Evans was a partner with the firm of Lange Simpson Robinson and Somerville (now Adams and Reese/Lange Simpson), and he handed much of the work on our case over to a junior attorney named Michael B. Odom.

Evans and Odom since have shuffled over to the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter. Experience has taught me this pair is a con-man tag team, regardless of where they lay their hats.

Did Evans and Odom cheat me by overbilling? No, although their monthly invoices were a major burden on our middle-class finances. But this was a classic case of underlawyering. Evans and Odom went through all of the "motions" (pardon the pun) of making it appear they were representing my best interests. They filed a motion to dismiss and two motions for summary judgment--all of which were denied by corrupt Shelby County Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner, who now resides on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

It took almost 15 months, but I finally realized Evans and Odom were not really representing me. And they almost certainly were pulling a scam from the outset. What were the signs? I presented pretty much all of them in an e-mail to Michael Odom dated Aug. 15, 2002. (The e-mail can be viewed at the end of this post.)

I wrote the e-mail after I had fired the lawyers from my case and demanded a refund totaling $11,619.16--the full amount I paid Lange Simpson during the course of their "representation." I never received a penny from these high-priced, downtown lawyers, but I had the pleasure of figuring out their game--they simply were going along with a scheme that Judge Joiner had set in motion, along with the neighbor's attorney, the wildly corrupt Willliam E. Swatek.

Michael B. Odom
Here are the two primary signs of underlawyering, as practiced by Jesse Evans and Michael Odom:

*Refusal to file a counterclaim--In my first meeting with Jesse Evans, in January 2001, I told him that the neighbor, Mike McGarity, had built a fence on our property, essentially stealing some 400 square feet of land that belonged to us. It's hard to imagine a more clear case for civil trespass, which needed to be stated in a counterclaim. We also had viable grounds for nuisance and abuse of process, which could have been asserted in a counterclaim. In the early weeks after Michael Odom began working on our case, I questioned him multiple times about the need to file a counterclaim because (1) We needed to seek damages for the wrongs  against us; (2) We needed to make sure we were not in a defensive position throughout the proceedings. After Judge Joiner unlawfully denied our two motions for summary judgment--even though Swatek did not respond with any timely or admissible evidence on either one--I met with Evans and Odom on July 25, 2002, and demanded that we file a counterclaim. They flat-out refused, and that's when I knew they were not working on my behalf--and probably had not been the entire time.

* Filing a second motion for summary judgment--McGarity, via his lawyer Swatek, filed no timely or admissible evidence to counter our affidavits on the first motion for summary judgment (MSJ). Our affidavits were filled with material evidence, countering McGarity's claim of malicious prosecution against me--and under Alabama law, summary judgment had to be granted and the case dismissed. A judge's finding on summary judgment is considered a "nondiscretionary" ruling, and Rule 56(e) of the Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure spells out the process. Case law also makes it clear:

When a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment offers no evidence to contradict that presented by the movant, trial court MUST consider the movant's evidence uncontroverted, with no genuine issue of material fact existing." Voyager Guar. Ins. Co., Inc. v. Brown 631 So. 2d 848 (Ala., 1993).

When Judge Joiner denied our first MSJ--which, by law, had to be granted--Evans and Odom surely knew I was being railroaded, and a second MSJ would be a waste of time and money. But they filed one anyway, and again, it was denied--even though, this time, Swatek made no response whatsoever for his client.

What did this little exercise in legal futility cost me? Well, Michael Odom worked on the second MSJ in December 2001 and January 2002. My bills for those months were $1,204 and $902, respectively--coming to a total of $2,106.

How much did I spend altogether on MSJs? Most of the work on the first one came in August 2001. My bill for that month was $2,312, which means my total outlay on summary judgment motions was $4,418.

What did I get for them? Absolutely nothing. For the same amount of money, or less, we could have filed a counterclaim and conducted discovery that might have forced a settlement. But I now know that Jesse Evans didn't want to file a counterclaim because that, indeed, would have meant discovery--and the judge on our case did not want that.

Joiner, I feel certain, did not want me to become privy to information about how Mike McGarity came to be my next-door neighbor via an under-the-table deal with Briarwood Presbyterian Church and a real-estate agent named Phyllis Tinsley. Judge Joiner almost certainly did not want me to know that the whole scam was executed so that Briarwood Christian High School could offer a sweetheart deal to keep Fred Yancey, its highly successful football coach and our neighbor before he moved to a house on school property--and Mike McGarity entered our lives.

Did Jesse Evans and Michael Odom overbill me, as the DLA Piper lawyers did with Adam Victor? Nope, but they did underlawyer me, charging the hourly rate they had stated, but acting in a way that they knew would get me nowhere.

I've seen similar behavior by lawyers in other cases I've reported here at Legal Schnauzer. Two classic examples are the divorce cases involving Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins and Clanton resident Bonnie Cahalane (Knox) Wyatt. Ms. Rollins and Ms. Wyatt spent well into the six figures on divorce lawyers, and what did they get? Sherry Rollins wound up with a divorce judgment, thanks to Shelby County Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson, that was so unlawful and one-sided that she and her two daughters have been on and off food stamps. Bonnie Wyatt received a bogus ruling from Chilton County
Circuit Judge Sibley Reynolds that led to her being unlawfully jailed for roughly five months last year. Since her release from jail, she has unlawfully been forced to put her house up for sale.

How is the middle class defined in America these days? I'm not sure, but let's assume it means you have a household income between $35,000 and $75,000. If you fit in that category and someday need legal services--for a divorce, estate matter, personal injury, consumer issue, employment discrimination, you name it--you will be in grave danger of being "underlawyered."

How can you tell if that is happening to you? The following e-mail might provide insight on what to look for. It provides details of how Jesse Evans and Michael Odom mishandled my case--and states my grounds for demanding a refund. It's rather lengthy, and I will spotlight the key points in an upcoming post.

But for now, let's consider this: If you take your car to a mechanic, only to get home and discover it hasn't been fixed, what do you do? You take it back to the mechanic and demand that he fix it, right? What happens if he says you should be content with his sorry performance and refuses to do anything about it? You demand your money back, right?

Jesse Evans and Michael Odom apparently think lawyers are in the rarefied air, above mechanics and all of us regular folks. They think lawyers should be allowed to not do the job you pay for--and still keep your money. That's not how I see it, and here is an e-mail where I made my feelings abundantly clear to Michael Odom.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Richard Scrushy's Tenacity Might Unearth Evidence Of Prosecutorial Corruption In The Siegelman Case


Richard Scrushy
Richard Scrushy, codefendant in the political prosecution of former Governor Don Siegelman, is one of the most controversial figures in modern Alabama history. Some people admire him for launching Birmingham-based HealthSouth Corporation and making generous donations to a number of worthy causes. Others loathe him for being CEO when HealthSouth became embroiled in an accounting scandal that cost investors millions of dollars and almost took the company under.

I've never known quite what to make of Scrushy, but I do know of at least one reason to admire him at this moment. Scrushy was released from federal prison last summer after serving 70 months for his convictions in the Siegelman case. Many individuals, after serving time in one of the most controversial criminal cases of recent decades, would wipe their hands of the matter and quietly get on with life.

But that's not Richard Scrushy. He seems convinced that he was wrongly convicted, that a broken justice system punished him for a non crime, and he remains intent on proving it. I admire that kind of principle and backbone in anyone. And in Scrushy's case, he is absolutely on target--he and Siegelman were railroaded by a bevy of corrupt lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and political operatives.

In his most recent brief to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit of Appeals, Scrushy points to the existence of evidence that likely will prove he and Siegelman never should have been prosecuted, much less convicted, under the law.

Will Scrushy be allowed access to that evidence, and will he be able to use it in a way that shows the Siegelman case was a cheat job of monstrous proportions? Those questions are at the heart of Scrushy's pending appeal, which included oral arguments before a three-judge panel in Atlanta on March 19.

Art Leach, Scrushy's chief attorney in the case, points to law that shows Scrushy is entitled to a review of the documents--and any others that might show his convictions should not stand. (The full brief can be read at the end of this post.)

Will the documents be unearthed, helping to prove what really happened behind the scenes of the Siegelman fiasco? Given the Eleventh Circuit's stupefying actions in the case so far, it's hard to imagine Scrushy's motion being successful. But it's also hard to imagine any lawful justification to deny a citizen's right to prove his criminal convictions were deeply flawed.

Consider, for example, the matter of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and her supposed recusal from the Siegelman case. In his brief on the current Scrushy appeal, Leach cites a pending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) proceeding styled John Aaron v. U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Case No. 1:09-cv-00831.

John Aaron, an attorney based in Alabaster, Alabama, filed a FOIA request in 2006, seeking DOJ records about Canary's role in the Siegelman case. When the Bush administration turned over almost no pertinent information, Aaron filed a federal lawsuit in 2009. The Obama DOJ also has stonewalled on the matter, but the Aaron lawsuit turned up some compelling information anyway.

Art Leach
Leach notes in his brief that U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody denied Scrushy's Motion for Discovery on the Canary issue by claiming the government had been forthcoming with information and stating: "This is not a matter of withholding any documents; there are no documents."

A motion from Aaron's lawsuit, however, shows that Judge Coody is mistaken. Writes Leach in the Scrushy brief:

Scrushy cited to a summary judgment motion filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in [the Aaron Freedom of Information Act proceeding]. A declaration attached to the summary judgment motion by Middle District of Alabama First Assistant Sandra Stewart shows that documents relating to the recusal of the U.S. Attorney not only exist, but had also been indexed. These materials include the entire file of the then-First Assistant and a CD containing “all the captured electronic records from U.S. Attorney Canary’s computer system. . . . ” At the time the magistrate found that no such documents existed, he was on notice that documents relevant to this issue had been gathered and indexed in the D.C. District Court proceeding.

What are the take-home points from this? I can think of at least two biggies:

* Electronic records from Leura Canary's computer system have been captured and indexed, meaning they are in a searchable format.

* U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody knew this when he found that no such documents exist. That strongly suggests Judge Coody is incompetent, wildly corrupt--or both.


Is Scrushy entitled to discovery on the Canary issue? Leach cites the applicable law, and it appears to be heavily in Scrushy's favor:

The standard for granting discovery is whether “there is a firm evidentiary basis for believing such evidence likely exists.” United States v. Velarde, 485 F.3d 553, 561 (10th Cir. 2007).

By citing information revealed in the Aaron FOIA case, Scrushy seems to have established beyond a doubt that "such evidence likely exists." The words of Sandra Stewart, Leura Canary's one-time chief lieutenant, make it clear.

Leach then points to law from the nation's highest court to support his contention that Scrushy's discovery requests are due to be granted:

As the Supreme Court held in Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. at 300, “where specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that a petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate” that he is entitled to relief, “it is the duty of the court to provide the necessary facilities and procedures for an adequate inquiry.”

Has there been an adequate inquiry on prosecutorial misconduct, juror misconduct, judicial bias, or any of the other ugly issues surrounding the Siegelman case? Art Leach's words in the Richard Scrushy appeal suggest there hasn't been much of an inquiry at all--adequate or otherwise.


(To be continued)



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CEO Ted Rollins Took A Number Of Extraordinary Steps To Make Sure He Had No Sons Of His Own


Ted Rollins
Ted Rollins took several unusual measures to ensure that he would not have a son of his own during a 14-year marriage to Birmingham resident Sherry Carroll Rollins. This includes having a breathing tube removed from a son who was born three months prematurely.

It all seems to be part of a pattern of abuse that started when Ted and Sherry Rollins got married without a prenuptial agreement. It continued through the Rollins v. Rollins divorce case, which I have called the worst courtroom cheat job that I've encountered. And it continues to this day, with Sherry Rollins struggling to meet expenses each month, leading to frequent threats that her utilities will be cut off.

Did Ted Rollins avoid having a son of his own because he did not want to be tempted to abuse his own flesh and blood? Was this part of the fallout from the documented abuse Ted Rollins heaped upon his stepson, Zac Parrish, who was Sherry Rollins' son from her first marriage?

Based on her statements to Legal Schnauzer, Sherry Rollins apparently believes the answer to those questions is yes. And that is ironic, Ms. Rollins says, because her husband's first marriage, to Monica Bulich, ended largely because she wanted to have children and he did not. From Sherry Rollins' statement to us:

His first wife wanted to have children with him desperately; he left her because of it. But he came and found me with two young sons.

During the second marriage, Ted Rollins became interested in having children of his own--but only under certain conditions. From Sherry Rollins' statement:

Then he said he wanted to have girls; he even went as far as to buy books about conceiving girls. He also talked with doctors on the executive committee of the cancer center at Durham about how to have girls. It was crazy.

Something must have worked because the couple eventually produced two daughters, Sarah and Emma Rollins. But along the way, Ms. Rollins gave birth to a son, who arrived about three months too soon. Both mother and child contracted e coli infections in a case that was so rare that Ms. Rollins' OB/GYN asked for permission to write a research paper on it.

The child's name was Jacob Benjamin Rollins, and he weighed about 1.5 pounds at birth. The little boy lived for about 10 days in the NICU at Wake Forest Medical Center. It's unclear how long he might have lived had Ted Rollins not intervened:

Ted made the doctor take the breathing tube out of his mouth and let him die. [Ted] did not want a son.

Sherry Rollins said the loss of Jacob Benjamin Rollins still haunts her. The child was cremated, and she has kept his ashes.

What's it like to marry into a wealthy family without a prenup? In the case of the Rollins family, it made Sherry Rollins the target of suspicion. That came, she says, mainly from John Rollins Sr. (Ted's father, now deceased); Michele Rollins (Ted's stepmother); Randall Rollins (Ted's billionaire cousin); and Henry Tippie, the family's financial guru who is based in Austin, Texas.

What kind of clout does Henry Tippie have in financial circles? The business school at the University of Iowa is named in his honor. He helps oversee the numbers for Orkin Pest Control, Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment, and other Rollins enterprises. Says Sherry Rollins:

I read an article somewhere lately that Henry Tippie and Michele are taking money away from Dover Downs. I remember when it went public in 1993 or so, Ted's brother, Jeff, who was 24 years old, made $68 million on the IPO. Ted made somewhere near that, but Mr. Rollins held onto Ted's money as they did not trust his marriage with me, with no prenup in place. I was the only Rollins woman without a prenup. That made them all very nervous from the beginning and influenced how I was treated. They kept private detectives on our house, and especially me. In these families where money is the only respected thing, the new person walking in without their approval and the prenup is a huge threat to their income flow.

As CEO of Campus Crest Communities, Ted Rollins now manages a company that has attracted more than $400 million of Wall Street support. But the family hierarchy did not trust him to manage his own funds. From Sherry Rollins:

Ted was a very wealthy man when we were married. However, John, Michele, Randall, and Henry Tippie made sure that he did not control his own money because of me. I was viewed as nothing more than an ignorant gold digger. . . . Our lives meant nothing at all to these people, and now my daughters are in that same petri dish, watched as [possible threats] to the family wealth.

Previously in the series: 

CEO Ted Rollins Got Married Without a Prenuptial Agreement To Satisfy His Taste For Adolescent Boys (2/7/13)

Ex Wife Of CEO Ted Rollins Might Have Been Warned That She Was About To Marry A Child Predator (2/19/13)

Age Difference Might Explain Much of the Ugliness That Led Rollins Divorce To Be A Colossal Cheat Job (2/26/13)

Why Do Ex Wives Of Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins Tend To Issue Warnings About Possible Child Abuse? (2/28/13)

Monday, March 25, 2013

Recent Letter Proves That Even AG Luther Strange Knows His Lawsuit Against Poarch Creeks Is A Sham


Luther Strange
A letter written earlier this year proves that even Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange knows his lawsuit to stop electronic bingo at Poarch Creek Indian facilities is a charade.

According to a new report from Bob Martin of the Montgomery Independent, Strange wrote to lawyers for VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor just before raiding and closing the facility last month. Here, in part, is what Strange said:

"You likely are aware of the situation with regard to Class 2 gambling on Indian land. Federal law governs those facilities, and I do not have jurisdiction to enforce federal or state laws against them."

So what gives? Strange announced his lawsuit against the Poarch Creeks on February 19, the same day he executed a search warrant at VictoryLand, seizing gambling machines, money, and other equipment. Both moves came only a few days after Strange had acknowledged in writing that he had no legal standing to take action against the Poarch Creeks.

Is Luther Strange a liar of mythical proportions? Is he so ethically compromised that he no longer cares if the public can figure out his transparent games? Is he so lacking in a conscience that he happily wastes taxpayer dollars on a legal case that he knows has zero merit? If he has no conscience, is Luther Strange a sociopath?

A reasonable Alabamian might have decided that the answer to all four questions is yes. As for Bob Martin, he provides important background, plus his own insights about what really is driving the attorney general. First, Martin tells us what prompted Strange's letter:

This correspondence was written to McGregor’s attorney Joe Espy after Espy asked him to file a declaratory judgment action against VictoryLand so the matter could be settled once and for all in court, and not force VictoryLand to close until a court ruled the bingo machines there were illegal.

Martin then comes to a logical conclusion about Strange's motives:

Several questions arise from Strange’s actions. If Strange now deems the Poarch Creek machines illegal, how has he suddenly gained jurisdiction over the Indian casino equipment? And why didn’t Strange seize the Poarch Creek machines when he filed suit against them? The answer seems obvious. The Poarch casinos, as I reported two months ago, made a $100,000 campaign donation to Strange in 2010 and the suit is a sham, obviously filed in an attempt to dupe the public.

Is it as simple as that? Has Luther Strange been bought and sold like a common streetwalker? Multiple experts, to be sure, are baffled by the AG's actions. Reports Martin:

“I’ve just never seen anything like this,” said Nelson Rose, author of “Gambling and the Law” and an expert witness who has testified on behalf of pro-gambling interests before. “It’s a public embarrassment for a state official to be doing this. I mean, he doesn’t have any lawyers who know anything about federal law, gaming law, Indian law or any combination thereof,” Rose told The Birmingham News.

G. William Rice, a professor with Tulsa University’s Native American Law Center, told the News that, generally speaking, states have no authority to intervene on Indian lands. “States simply have no jurisdiction over Indian Country,” he said. “I’m afraid that the attorney general’s lawsuit is on very tenuous grounds.”

Translation: These experts seem to suggest that Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer is losing it, to the point that he has become a "public embarrassment." But I suspect Luther Strange is not a loon; he's a man under duress.

Consider a recent column by Alabama political commentator Steve Flowers. He hints that Strange and his staunch political ally, former Governor Bob Riley, are seriously compromised. From Flowers article, dated March 21:

Indeed the closing of VictoryLand created quite a bonanza for the Alabama Creek Indian casinos. For the fourth year in a row they have experienced record setting growth. According to the Indian Gaming Industry Report released two weeks ago by Casino City Press, revenue for Alabama’s Indian casinos grew by over 26% in 2011. The report says Alabama leads the nation in revenue growth for Indian gambling. All of this is a direct result of the continuous havoc being played on the private constitutionally granted casinos by Bob Riley and now Luther Strange.

Have Riley and Strange been wreaking havoc simply because they have been bought off by Indian gaming interests, including the Poarch Creeks in Alabama and the Choctaws in Mississippi? Flowers notes that public records show Riley received more than $400,000 from Indian casinos for his 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

I suspect, however, that the peculiar actions from Riley and Strange go beyond dollars and cents. GOP felon Jack Abramoff admitted in his 2011 book that he funneled some $20 million into Alabama to help Riley beat Democrat Don Siegelman in 2002. That means Riley was the beneficiary of a widespread criminal enterprise, one that never has fully been unearthed.

A number of prominent journalists, including Scott Horton of Harper's, have reported that Congress and prosecutors pursued only a fraction of the criminal wrongdoing in the Abramoff affair. Does that mean  Indian gaming interests have plenty of damning material to hold over the heads of Bob Riley and his associates, including Luther Strange? Could this information, if made public, be strong enough to put members of Team Riley in federal prison for years? Does that explain why Riley and Strange are quick to do the bidding of their Indian benefactors?

The answer to all of those questions, I suspect, is yes.

My guess is that dollars and cents, in part, are driving Riley and Strange. But so, in all likelihood, is blackmail.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Fellow Federal Judge Proves William Acker Jr. Butchered My Employment Lawsuit Against UAB


Judge William M. Acker Jr. (right)
New evidence shows that U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. acted way outside the law in his handling of my employment lawsuit against the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The evidence this time comes from one of Acker's colleagues on the federal bench in the Northern District of Alabama.

This revelation raises disturbing questions about Acker's competence, integrity, and fitness as a federal judge. But perhaps more importantly, it shows the wild disparity in the way similar cases are handled, based simply on the supposedly random selection of a judge. We learn that "justice" in America can come down to a crap shoot that might be fitting for the "Wild, Wild West"--if you get one judge, you have a decent shot at receiving lawful treatment; if you draw another judge, you have no chance.

Acker's actions in my case against UAB--granting summary judgment to the university and individual defendants even though no discovery had been conducted--were so outrageous that we don't need additional evidence to prove that the 85-year-old Reagan appointee is a corrupt hack. In fact, we've shown that Acker almost had to have engaged in a criminal conspiracy that likely involved certain members of the Birmingham legal community and several UAB officials. (Acker's bogus ruling on summary judgment can be viewed at the end of this post.)

While anyone with a few weeks of law school (or the ability to read my posts on the subject) should clearly see that Acker acted corruptly in my case, it's nice to receive confirmation from one of the judge's judicial brethren.

The latest evidence comes in the form of a memorandum opinion by U.S. District Judge Lynwood Smith Jr., in a case styled April D. Chandler v. Volunteers of America, North Alabama Inc. (Civil Action No. 10-S-2961-NW).

How similar are the two cases? Smith, like Acker, serves on the federal bench in the Northern District of Alabama. April Chandler, like yours truly, brought various discrimination claims against her former employer.

Some might question my objectivity on this, but I dare say my case against UAB was much stronger than the one April Chandler has against Volunteers. For one, my case included alleged Constitutional violations. And my First Amendment claim was supported by tape-recorded evidence showing that a UAB human-resources official admitted I was targeted because of my reporting on this blog about the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman.

That is not to discount the serious nature of Ms. Chandler's claims. The evidentiary record in her case points to the likelihood that she experienced racial discrimination. But here is perhaps the key difference in these two cases: Ms. Chandler, in fact, had an evidentiary record in her case; there essentially was none in mine, other than a few affidavits that individual UAB defendants filed--and I was not allowed to challenge.

Let's consider a brief scorecard of how these two similar cases were handled on critical issues:

I. Discovery 
Chandler case--Extensive discovery was conducted. Judge Smith's memorandum opinion includes 251 footnotes, many of them references to affidavits and depositions submitted by the party opposing summary judgment, which was Plaintiff Chandler. 
Shuler case--No discovery was conducted. The party opposing summary judgment, me, was not allowed to gather any evidence, even though I notified the court in multiple documents that no discovery had been conducted. In fact, the case docket shows no discovery meeting even was scheduled. Judge Acker's memorandum opinion includes no footnotes because there was no evidentiary record. 
II. Outcome on Summary Judgment 
Chandler case--Judge Smith had harsh criticism for Chandler's attorney, who apparently has brought a number of discrimination claims against Volunteer. Smith said the lawyer's briefs and evidentiary material were sketchy and disorganized. Smith granted summary judgment and dismissed Chandler's claims for hostile work environment and retaliation, but he allowed certain aspects of her disparate-treatment claim to go forward. That means Chandler has a chance to receive some measure of justice, likely in the form of a settlement before the case reaches a jury verdict. 
Shuler case--Before rendering his finding on summary judgment, Acker actually praised my work as a pro se litigant, stating that my briefs and other documents were better than those he receives from many lawyers. But Acker ignored my multiple motions requesting that discovery be scheduled and conducted, dismissing all of my claims without giving me an opportunity to gather any evidence. The end result? He allowed UAB to get away with misconduct that even one of the university's own HR officials admitted took place.

How off target was Acker? Well, let's consider the following words from Judge Smith in the April Chandler case. It comes under the heading "Motion for Summary Judgment: Legal Standards":

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

So we learn from Smith that discovery is an essential part of the summary judgment process. But he doesn't stop there:

In other words, summary judgment is proper "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)

Here we learn that summary judgment is proper only "after adequate time for discovery." And Judge Smith cites Celotex, a well-known U.S. Supreme Court case from 1986.

Judge Lynwood Smith
Last time I checked, U.S. Supreme Court rulings are supposed to apply in the Northern District of Alabama. But you would never know that from Judge Acker's handling of my case against UAB. Not only did I not have "adequate time for discovery," I had no time for discovery.

I applaud April Chandler for getting over the summary-judgment hurdle and moving toward a shot at justice; I intend to keep up with her case. But here are questions that any American with a functioning conscience should ask upon learning how these two cases were handled:

"What kind of justice system do we have if the outcome of court cases can vary wildly depending on luck of the draw regarding a judge? What do the 14th Amendment guarantees of 'due process' and 'equal protection' mean if we do not have judge who are able and willing to enforce them? How much damage do corrupt charlatans, such as William M. Acker Jr., inflict upon the very foundation of our democracy?

Here is perhaps the most important question of all;

"How long are we going to quietly allow such gross injustice in the federal courts that all taxpayers fund?"

(Note to readers: Following is Judge William M. Acker's memorandum opinion, granting summary judgment in my lawsuit against UAB. I've been operating for months under the notion that I had scanned this document and run it multiple times on Legal Schnauzer. After all, I've referenced Acker's erroneous ruling on summary judgment in more than a dozen posts. But I recently discovered that I've never run his actual opinion, and that was an oversight on my part. I've run numerous documents leading up to the summary-judgment ruling and a number of documents that came after, including appellate documents. But this is the first time Acker's actual opinion has appeared, and that's because I have it only in hard-copy form, and I just now realized that I have never scanned it for publication on the blog. My apologies for the omission of this critical document in my personal legal journey. But now, better late than never, here is your opportunity to peruse perhaps one of the most outlandish documents in the history of American jurisprudence. I will examine its many absurdities in upcoming posts, but I invite readers to take their own close-up looks at the kind of "reasoning" and "logic" that your tax dollars support.)



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Top Alabama Republicans Seek Indian Gaming Funds To Support July Legislative Conference In Mobile


Mike Hubbard
Alabama Republicans generally oppose gambling, but their two most prominent legislators are seeking a sizable donation from Indian gaming interests to help fund a conference this summer in Mobile. The state's No. 1 Republican, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, might have been caught in a lie about his knowledge of a letter seeking funds from the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI).

All of this came to public attention because of a citizen journalist's investigative efforts. The same citizen journalist wrote a blog post yesterday providing important background on the legislative conference and the organizations behind it--information that largely has been ignored by the mainstream press.

Charles Dean, of al.com, wrote Sunday about a March 2012 fund-raising letter that asked PCI for $150,000 to support the annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC), which will be July 27-31 in Mobile. But the story actually broke last week when a citizen journalist who goes by the name "MaximusShelby" posted the letter on the document-sharing site Scribd and followed up with an item on Twitter. (The letter can be viewed at the end of this post.)

Dean must have received a tip about the letter's presence on the Web, and to his credit, produced a major story for Sunday's issue of The Birmingham News. But he did not give MaximusShelby credit for breaking the story, and he did not link to the actual letter on Scribd.

William J. "Happy" Fulford, lead lobbyist for the University of South Alabama and chair of the conference planning committee, wrote the letter and noted the prominent roles for Hubbard and Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh as hosts of the event.

In his article, Dean points out the incongruity of the anti-gambling Hubbard seeking funds from an Indian gaming interest. But when asking Hubbard about the letter, Dean might have let Mr. Speaker off the hook. From the al.com article:

Hubbard and Marsh both said they had not seen Fulford's letter to the Poarch Creeks until a reporter showed it to them late last week. Fulford said it never occurred to him to tell Hubbard or Marsh that he was including their names on the solicitation letter.

"The speaker and the pro tem are hosts for the event and as such the protocol would be to include their names," said Fulford.

Hubbard said he has no role in the fund-raising effort led by Fulford. He said he had really no comment on the request to the Poarch Creeks for a donation. Hubbard did say he remains "one hundred percent" opposed to gambling and whether the tribe helped pay for the cost of the conference would have no effect on his position.

Hubbard had no role in the fund-raising effort and apparently was unaware of Fulford's letter? That's strange, given that anyone who views the entire letter can see this at the bottom:

Enclosures:
Speaker Hubbard/Senate President Pro Tempore Marsh Letter
Sponsorship pledge form
W-9

That indicates a letter from Hubbard and Marsh was included with Fulford's packet. But the speaker claims he had no role in the fund-raising effort? We are to believe that Hubbard did not know who was receiving donation requests that included his own letter? A copy of the Hubbard/Marsh enclosure has not yet surfaced, but the evidence so far suggests Speaker Hubbard did not tell the truth about his involvement in the fund-raising effort.

Poarch Creek casino
In a post yesterday at the Alabama Confidential Web site, MaximusShelby notes that Charles Dean left much unsaid about the powerful forces behind the July conference. From a post titled "Alabama Legislators To Attend Southern Legislative Conference in Mobile 'Closed to the Public,'" Maximus writes:

At an upcoming event scheduled for July 27 through July 31st, legislators from fifteen southern states will be meeting in Mobile, Alabama behind closed doors. Many who are attending this exclusive event have the option of doing so on the taxpayer's dime. . . .

One lobbying group who's hawking this Mobile soiree is Stateside Associates. Founded by a former Executive Director for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Constance Campanella, the Stateside Associates firm functions as a "stealth lobbyists" organization.


Who is Stateside Associates, and what is a "stealth lobbyist"? Maximus provides insight:

"Taxpayer subsidized stealth lobbyists: Lobbyists who circumvent normal lobbying regulations and procedures to advance the corporate agenda in statehouses nationwide on the taxpayer dime.

"A lobbying behemoth--the self-proclaimed largest firm of its kind--Stateside has enough tricks up its sleeve to tackle even the most difficult, and often delicate, lobbying cases."

Mike Hubbard has claimed to be a proponent of transparency. But he is co-hosting a conference that appears to be about anything but transparency. Maximus adds important perspective:

In the political poker games of corporate deal-making, ALEC-style cronyism, and unembarrassed double standards, no one plays a better hand than the Alabama Republican Party does. With a marked deck at their disposal, they've built a house of cards on "transparency and honor in office" since sweeping all three legislative branches of government in 2010. . . .

If Alabama's legislators return from these high-dollar conferences and events with potential legislative templates in hand that all Alabamians have to live under, then can we at least demand that it's not done on any taxpayer's dime? Might we also demand that any "conferencing" is not done behind closed doors?

The people should demand no less from their elected officials. Beyond that members of the state media need to wake up and thoroughly explore and/or expose serious issues like these--not only in the interest of good journalism, but because the public has a right to know.

Doing any less enables the cloak of secrecy for Alabama legislators.



Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Luther Strange Embarks On a Wild Shopping Binge In Search Of Friendly Judges For Gambling Cases


Judge Thomas Young
(Updated at 1:40 p.m. CST on 3/19/13. See update at end of post.)

You might think that Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer would be above judge shopping. But you would be wrong.

In fact, events leading up to two gambling-related hearings this week indicate Attorney General Luther Strange is an ardent judge shopper. And that should cause reasonable citizens to question the quality of arguments Strange plans to present before the courts.

What evidence suggests that "Big Luther" is practicing the low art of judge shopping? As Exhibit A, consider a hearing that is scheduled today before Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young. The hearing originally was set on VictoryLand's motion that its property is due to be returned after Strange's office seized electronic-bingo machines, money, and other items in a February 19 raid. But Strange filed a motion for Judge Young to recuse himself, and today's hearing now is expected to focus only on that issue

As Exhibit B, let's consider a hearing that is scheduled for Thursday before Houston County Circuit Judge Mike Conaway. Officials with Center Stage Alabama are seeking the return of 600 electronic gaming devices and $283,000, which were seized in a raid last July. In that matter, Strange has steadfastly opposed the recusal of Judge Conaway.

Why does the attorney general want a judge in Macon County to step down from a gambling case, while he wants a judge in Houston County to stay put? Well, it appears "Big Luther" is a pretty unprincipled guy. Actually, he does seem to have one principle, and it goes something like this: "I want cases to be heard only by judges who rule in my favor. All other judges must be removed because of 'bias.'"

What is Luther Strange really up to with all the drama of gambling raids? The folks at Dothan-based Rickey Stokes News recently summed it up pretty well, in our view:

While the Attorney General says the operation [at Center Stage] is illegal, he has yet to file any criminal charges in the case. However, he is working for a civil forfeiture of the machines and the equipment. This is a way to circumvent his having to prove the legality of the machines. We have to only take the politician's words because he can't put up or shut up in a criminal proceeding.

With the AG facing shaky facts and law, perhaps that's why he is focused heavily on the pursuit of friendly judges. What is the law on recusal of a judge? Well, it's filled with all sorts of high-minded language that sounds good in theory. But the reality often is muddled and subjective. The basics can be found in a case styled Matter of Sheffield, 465 So. 2d 350 (Ala. Sup. Ct, 1984):

Recusal is required . . . when "facts are shown which make it reasonable for members of the public or a party, or counsel opposed to question the impartiality of the judge. . . ." Specifically, the . . . recusal test is: "Would a person of ordinary prudence in the judge's position knowing all of the facts known to the judge find that there is a reasonable basis for questioning the judge's impartiality?"

Alabama courts also have held that "recusal is not required by a mere accusation of bias unsupported by substantial fact." Crowell v. May, 676 So. 2d 941 (Ala. Civ. App., 1996).

Published reports indicate that Strange's recusal motion in Macon County is based almost entirely on the fact that Judge Young ruled against him on an application for a search warrant at VictoryLand. But we've seen no evidence that Young's ruling was contrary to fact or law--or that it was driven by bias. In fact, it was a discretionary ruling, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Young's finding. The raid took place only after the Alabama Supreme Court granted Strange's writ of mandamus, forcing Young to approve the search warrant.

(For what it's worth, the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board also agreed with Young. It granted VictoryLand a liquor license, stating that it could not find the facility was engaging in illegal activity.)

Evidence of bias on Judge Young's part--supported by substantial fact--might be presented at today's hearing or at some point in the future. But for now, it's hard to see any lawful grounds for him to step down from the VictoryLand case.

As for the matter in Houston County, it presents some troubling facts regarding recusal. Judge Conaway was appointed to the bench by former Governor Bob Riley, who spent much of his last two years in office launching a crusade against non-Indian gaming at facilities such as Center Stage. During the appointment process, former Riley adviser Sonny Reagan interviewed Conaway; Reagan now works for the attorney general's office and serves as chief prosecutor on the Center Stage case.

To summarize: Substantial evidence suggests Judge Conaway owes his spot on the bench to Sonny Reagan--and Mr. Reagan now is arguing against Center Stage before Judge Conaway. Do attorneys for Center Stage have the kind of "substantial fact" that goes beyond a "mere accusation of bias"? If they don't, it's hard to imagine a party in Alabama who would.

Despite that, the Alabama Supreme Court has found that Conaway can stay on the Center Stage case. With that as a backdrop, it seems Strange has no grounds for Judge Young's recusal in Macon County.

But as we noted earlier, Strange is an unprincipled guy, and he's trying to get Young off the case anyway. We should know pretty soon if the attorney general is successful. If he is, we will know just how far the rule of law has sunk in this state.


(Update at 1:45 p.m. CST on 3/19/13)

Macon County Judge Thomas Young this morning denied Attorney General Luther Strange's request to recuse himself from the VictoryLand seizure case. Here is a report from al.com:

Macon County Judge Tom Young Turns Down AG's Request . . . 


Monday, March 18, 2013

Will Race Determine How Mike Hubbard Is Treated Over Apparent Violations of Alabama Bid Law?


Mike Hubbard
A violation of the Alabama Competitive Bid Law can be a crime--and recent history indicates it is treated that way when the alleged violators are from a predominantly black, Democratic county.

But what happens when an apparent violator is a white Republican, with powerful ties to former Governor Bob Riley and his political machine? More specifically, what happens when the apparent violator is Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)?

We might soon find out, in the wake of a report last week that Hubbard rigged the bid-law process to obtain a multimillion-dollar media contract with Auburn University. Buddy Mitchell, a former lobbyist for Auburn, says in a sworn statement that Hubbard received copies of competitors' proposals before winning a five-year multimedia contract for Auburn athletics in 2002. In fact, Mitchell states in an affidavit that he personally delivered competitors' proposals to Hubbard, and that allowed Hubbard to tailor his bid in order to win the contract. It's all in a report by Bill Britt of Alabama Political Reporter.

Mitchell was director of governmental affairs at Auburn from 1993 to 2004, and Hubbard worked in the university's sports-information department before joining Host Communications in 1990. Hubbard proceeded to wrestle the contract away from Host via a no-bid contract and formed the Auburn Network in 1994. By the early 2000s, Hubbard's company reportedly was struggling financially when he approached Mitchell for help after Auburn forced him to go through a competitive-bid process. Here is how Britt describes what happened next:

Mitchell said Hubbard first acknowledged to him that his company was on the verge of going bankrupt.

Initially, forced by Auburn to go through a competitive bid process for the first time, according to Mitchell’s statements, Hubbard was given access to all of his competitors'  proprietary proposals prior to making his winning offer for the contract.

For years, it was speculated that Hubbard was given an unfair advantage in obtaining the Auburn contract. Mitchell, who was executive director of the Office of Governmental Affairs at Auburn from 1993 to 2004, said in a sworn affidavit that he personally delivered the competitors’ proposals to Hubbard.

If Mitchell's allegations are proven to be true, it's hard to imagine a more grotesque violation of the Alabama Competitive Bid Law. Attorney General Luther Strange--like Hubbard, a devout member of Team Riley--has proven that he treats the bid law seriously. In May 2011, all five members of the Bullock County Commission were arrested on felony charges of bid-law violations.

We reported on the Bullock County story and noted the political and socioeconomic climate surrounding the case:

The inquiry into Bullock County's finances started under the Riley administration, with Strange following through now on arrests. Is this payback for some slight that Riley perceived coming from Bullock County during his administration? Could this be part of a larger GOP plan to continue terrorizing Democrats in the Deep South?

To arrive at possible answers to those questions, it helps to understand the demographics of Bullock County. The county is 74.9 percent black, with a median household income of $24,440, well below the state average of $40,489. In the 2008 presidential election, Bullock County gave 74.2 percent of its vote to Barack Obama, with 25.7 percent to John McCain.

Bullock belongs to a strip of counties that starts to the northwest of Montgomery and runs to the capital city's southeast, representing what passes for a Democratic stronghold in Alabama.

Was the public trust grossly violated in the Bullock County case? Well, the five commissioners, combined, were alleged to have paid $85,000 for food and supplies without following the state bid law. That means each commissioner was responsible for roughly $17,000 worth of bid-law violations, although it's unclear that any of the commissioners personally benefited. Even Luther Strange must have realized the case was weak because he announced in February 2012 that he was dropping all charges.

Let's compare that to the case of Mike Hubbard. Here is how Bill Britt describes it:

In accepting Hubbard’s five-year, $8.5 million deal in 2002, Auburn, in turn, rejected a competitor’s bid that offered $12.5 million over the same period. That meant Auburn received $4 million less under Hubbard’s proposal than under the bid more financially beneficial to Auburn.

Translation: Hubbard "won" an $8.5-million contract that he probably would not have received without being able to tailor his proposal, based on under-the-table information about competitors' bids. On top of that, a taxpayer-funded university wound up paying $4 million more than it should have paid. If our math is correct, that's about $12.5-million worth of graft and corruption, courtesy of a public official who went on to chair the Alabama Republican Party and then become speaker of the House.

Is Mike Hubbard likely to face criminal charges of the sort that were brought against Bullock County officials? We think it's doubtful, based on a number of political and legal considerations. For one, it's hard to imagine our Republican-dominated power structure treating one of Bob Riley's favored sons the way it treated the commissioners in Bullock County. Perhaps of more importance, the applicable statute of limitations on a 2002 transaction probably has expired, which would block a criminal case as untimely.

It's possible that Hubbard is not out of the criminal woods. The five-year deal with Auburn extended through 2007, so that might bring the applicable statute of limitations back into play. Could a crafty prosecutor make the case that Hubbard has engaged in ongoing criminal activity that grew out of the 2002 deal, extending the statute of limitations? Well, Hubbard sold the Auburn Network to International Sports Properties (ISP) in 2003, but he continued as president of ISP's Auburn sports project. IMG College purchased ISP in 2010, so the Auburn Sports Network now operates under the IMG College banner. The Auburn Sports Network still has its contract with the university, so one could argue that the firm continues to benefit from Hubbard's apparent fraud on the 2002 deal.

If Hubbard used the the U.S. mails or wires while rigging the bid process--and he almost certainly did--that might invoke federal jurisdiction. And Hubbard's actions appear to go well beyond bid-law violations to outright fraud.

All of this includes an ironic twist in the volatile world of sports media. Host Communications, which probably would have won the bid in 2002 without Hubbard's apparent fraud, also has been bought by IMG. Host Communications probably is just now finding out about the fraud-riddled bid process in 2002, so it likely would have a valid civil claim against Hubbard. But with Host and the Auburn Network now both under the IMG banner, would such a claim make sense? Could IMG/Host go after Hubbard individually in a lawsuit?

The answers to those questions are unclear, but we suspect Hubbard's biggest concern should be on the civil side, rather than criminal. Auburn University might have the strongest grounds for a lawsuit, and who knows what the wide-ranging discovery process in such a civil claim would reveal about Mike Hubbard's business and political practices?

Paul Davis, the late owner and president of The Tuskegee News, wrote an article in 2010 that outlined Hubbard's machinations on the Auburn contract from 2002. The Davis article references an "emissary" who delivered copies of competitors' proposals to Hubbard. Thanks to Bill Britt's reporting, we now know the emissary was Buddy Mitchell--and Mitchell has admitted to his role in a sworn statement.

Regardless of what happens to Hubbard in a court of law, Alabamians should consider the words in Buddy Mitchell's affidavit and ask this question: What kind of man is leading our House of Representatives--and what kind of tactics did he use to reach that position?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Does Major Bashinsky's Quirky Older Brother Accurately Portray Their Father's Business Life?

Sloan Bashinsky Jr.

We are about to pass the third anniversary of the disappearance and death of prominent Alabama lawyer Major Bashinsky. We find no more reason to believe he actually committed suicide than there was three years ago.

Major Bashinsky was reported missing on March 3, 2010. Twelve days later, his body was pulled from a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside. Nine days after that, law-enforcement authorities tied a neat bow on the case by proclaiming that Major Bashinsky had killed himself.

That means it will be three years ago tomorrow since we learned that the disappearance of Major Bashinsky was more than a missing-person case; it was a death case. Was it a homicide case? We might never know the answer to that question, but it certainly is a shaky suicide case.

A close review of the medical-examiner's report reveals a multitude of reasons to doubt the official finding. As regular readers know, we are not prone to blindly accept the word of officials connected to law enforcement, especially when documents present clear grounds to question their conclusions. That is why we have followed the Bashinsky story long after mainstream reporters quit writing about it. And it's why we plan to have additional posts in the future.

We start today by focusing on a curious figure in the "suicide" of Major Bashinsky--his older brother, Sloan Y. Bashinsky Jr.

Sloan Bashinsky Jr. has been a practicing lawyer, has written several books on legal issues, and now writes multiple blogs from his base in Key West, Florida. He long has said that he buys the official finding that his brother committed suicide. But one of the grounds he has cited for that belief is based on false information, according to our review of court documents.

What does that mean? I would suggest it means the public should take a closer look at a lawsuit involving the Bashinskys' late father, Sloan Bashinsky Sr., the man who built the company that produces Golden Flake snack foods.

Bashinsky Jr. clearly is a bright fellow, and he makes no effort to hide his quirks. He often writes of hearing in his dreams from angels and other celestial beings that he refers to as the "Board of Directors."

Both in his posts and in e-mails to me and my journalistic colleague, Lori Alexander Moore, Bashinsky Jr. has said that he believes Major Bashinsky committed suicide and used rope and duct tape to tie himself up to make it look like a murder. Bashinsky Jr. also has claimed that his brother was bisexual and killed himself because he feared someone was about to out him in a way that would ruin his reputation in and around the tony suburb of Mountain Brook.

Bashinsky Jr. long has discounted any notion that his brother's disappearance and death had any connection to a contentious lawsuit involving more than $37 million their father had invested in oil and gas wells with the Birmingham firm of W & H Investments. The lawsuit was styled Estate of Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr., et al. v. W & H Investments, et al, and a Jefferson County judge approved a settlement on March 1, 2010. Two days later, Major Bashinsky was reported missing--and 12 days after that, his body was found in a water hazard at Highland Park Golf Course on Birmingham's Southside.

While his brother was missing, Bashinsky Jr. received a visit in Key West from William Cobb "Chip" Hazelrig, one of the partner's in W & H Investments and a man who had provided financial advice to the senior Bashinsky for about 20 years. Bashinsky Jr. wrote two posts about the visit in spring 2010 and described the "handshake" arrangement that Hazelrig and Bashinsky Sr. had lived by.

According to Bashinsky Jr., his father liked to work in such an informal fashion, and the lawsuit was a means for representatives of his estate to unnecessarily harass Hazelrig and his partner, Fred Wedell. Here are Bashinsky's Jr.'s thoughts on the lawsuit, based on his conversation with Chip Hazelrig on March 13, 2010, in Key West. Two days after the conversation, Major Bashinsky's body was discovered:

The way Chip described my father and their business relationship, there was no doubt my father knew Chip and liked him. Chip described what sounded to me like a spurious lawsuit my father’s widow, Joann, and my father’s accountant, Owen Sims, and the former CEO of my father’s company, John Stein, as Trustees of my father’s estate, had filed against Chip and his business partner. I told Chip it sounded like something those three would do, and said his loose-handshake business dealings with my father was something my father would do. When Chip told me of a meeting Joann and Stein had demanded my father attend with Chip, and of my father telling then at that meeting to stay out of his business dealings with Chip and his partner, I said that sounded like my father and was what had caused those three to sue Chip and his business partner after my father died and was out of the picture.

Bashinsky Jr. expanded on this theme in a post dated July 1, 2012. Here is his recollection of the visit he had with Chip Hazelrig in Key West. Near the end of this segment, Bashinsky Jr. again addresses the meeting that preceded the lawsuit against Hazelrig's company:

Mostly we talked about Chip’s business and friendship with my father, and only a little about Major, who had been missing a few days. I said I did not yet have any sense of what had happened to Major. Chip clearly loved my father. We talked maybe an hour. Part of it was about the lawsuit my father’s widow and estate and business lawyer and trustees had filed against Chip and his partner’s oil and gas company for an accounting; H & W I think was the company’s name. Chip said the accounting was pretty loose, my father liked to operate on a handshake, and he liked to roll the dice on oil and gas bets. Over the years he won more bets than he lost, did pretty well if you aggregated the big tax write-offs with the royalties the good wells paid out. Sounded like my father, doing it on a handshake. Chip said he and my father once got dragged to a meeting by the future plaintiffs mentioned above, and they grilled Chip and my father until he told them to run the potato chip business and he would run the oil and gas business. That, too, sounded just like my father.

Bashinsky Jr.'s take seems to be this: His father was perfectly happy with the way Hazelrig and Wedell managed his investments and wanted the trustees of the estate to butt out. A letter in the court file, however, presents a different view. It shows Bashinsky Sr. being concerned about the status of his investments and instructing Wedell to supply the necessary information to Owen Sims, his accountant, and John P. McKleroy Jr., his attorney from the Birmingham firm of Spain & Gillon. The full letter, written by Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr. to Fred Wedell and dated July 20, 2004, can be viewed at the end of this post. It states:

Dear Fred:
I have reviewed a copy of the information which you furnished to John McKleroy concerning my investments with W & H Investments. In order for me to work on my estate disposition plan and to properly analyze current and potential income, along with associated liabilities, I need substantially more information than what you furnished. Enclosed is a list of information which I would appreciate you furnishing to me, along with a copy to John McKleroy and Owen Sims.
Thank you for your attention in this matter. I look forward to receiving this information.

Yours very truly,
Sloan Y. Bashinsky Sr.

Bashinsky Sr. died on August 2, 2005, and court records indicate he never received an adequate response to his letter. The estate followed up with another request for information on January 12, 2006, and when that response also was inadequate, it filed a lawsuit on June 20, 2006.

Our review of the court file indicates the estate never received much of the information it sought--and again, this involved a substantial sum, the proceeds from more than $37 million in oil and gas investments. Although issues in the case apparently were not resolved, the two sides reached a settlement in January 2010, and the court approved it on March 1, 2010.

Two days later, Major Bashinsky went missing.

We contacted Chip Hazelrig prior to publication of this post in an effort to interview him about various matters connected to the Bashinsky-estate lawsuit. He declined our interview request.

Many questions remain about how and why Major Bashinsky died. But this much now seems clear: Sloan Bashinsky Sr. was less than thrilled about the response he received from Hazelrig and Wedell regarding the status of his investments. And Bashinsky Sr. joined with the trustees for his estate in wanting to know what happened to his money.



Bashinsky Lawsuit--Sloan Bashinsky Letter

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A "Fiscal Conservative" Takes Over Alabama House And Boosts Certain Spending By 4,700 Percent


Mike Hubbard
(Updated at 2:45 p.m. on 3/13/13. See end of post)

Mike Hubbard became speaker of the Alabama House in 2010--the first Republican in more than 130 years to hold the position--based largely on a pledge to restore honest government and fiscal discipline in Montgomery.

Has Hubbard made good on that promise? Not exactly. In fact, a new report from Bill Britt of the Alabama Political Reporter shows that Hubbard is failing spectacularly.

Using financial data from open.alabama.gov, Britt shows that Hubbard increased spending in the speaker's office by 82.6 percent over Seth Hammett, his Democratic predecessor. But that is just a warm-up for the jaw-dropping numbers to follow.

Consider spending in the area of "outside political consultants": Under Hammett in 2008, the speaker's office spent $2,880. That figure skyrocketed to $135,820.74 under Hubbard in 2012. For Alabama taxpayers who need a little assistance with math, Britt does the heavy lifting--spending for political consultants increased under Hubbard by 4,700 percent.

Gee, how bad would it be if Hubbard was not such a "fiscal conservative"? Reports Britt:

A comparison of total spending for the Office of the Speaker of the House shows that Mike Hubbard has been anything but a fiscal conservative when it comes to spending the public’s money on the perks of his office.

Between the fiscal years 2008 (when Democrat Seth Hammett was Speaker) and fiscal year 2012 (the most recent complete year of spending under Hubbard), total taxpayer dollars spent on running the Office of the Speaker of House nearly doubled.

Total spending for the Office of the Speaker of the House increased 82.6 percent-- from $488,638 under Hammett to $892,492 under Hubbard last year. The office payroll line item increased 54.5 percent under Hubbard, from $364,014.30 in ’08 to $562,511 last year.

As for the astonishing spending on political consultants, much of that went to one man, David Azbell, a founding partner in the Birmingham firm Swatek Azbell Howe and Ross (SAHR). What kind of class act is David Azbell? You can check him out in the video at the end of this post. It speaks volumes about the kind of people that Mike Hubbard showers with taxpayer dollars. Writes Bill Britt:

Of the $135,820.74 in public money spent on outside contracts in Fiscal Year 2012, $96,000 of that was paid by Alabama taxpayers to Azbell Communications, the one-man operation run by David Azbell. Azbell was the co-writer of Hubbard’s vanity book publication, "Storming the Statehouse."

When it comes to furnishing his professional surroundings, Hubbard apparently has the opulent taste of a Las Vegas casino mogul. That is ironic, of course, for a Republican who claims to be against gambling on moral grounds:

Not figured into the double digit-growth of the Speaker’s Office is the tremendous amount that has gone into remodeling the State House and especially the Speaker’s suite of offices. Construction cost and decorating expenses have been hidden, and multiple requests for information have been denied.

The Speaker’s Office now adorned with new carpet, new paint and expanded spaces are just a few of the new trappings of power. The Speaker’s suite is outfitted with multiple flat-screen televisions, one completely dedicated to a continuous rotation of pictures featuring Mike Hubbard with political dignitaries. The Speaker routinely travels with an entourage and personal body guard, many times in two black SUV’s with tinted windows.

How is Mike Hubbard serving Alabama taxpayers? It seems he mostly is taking them on a financial joyride. Britt notes that the speaker's office has spent wildly "while Hubbard has worked to cut state  workers, deny pay increases and downsize government for everyone else."

In other words, it's time for austerity in Alabama--unless you happen to be Mike Hubbard or one of his good buddies. Britt puts it in perspective by noting that Hubbard's fellow Republicans have been remarkably silent about the speaker's actions:

Where is the outcry from those who promised the voters of Alabama that they would end frivolous government spending? Hubbard has outspent Democrats by an unprecedented amount. Yet, not one peep is heard from his followers on the fourth floor of the State House, which has also been graciously remodeled.

No one dares stand-up to “Diamond Mike” because they fear retaliation. One can only hope that once those in the Tea Party and those who still stand for small government are made aware of his reckless spending they will take a stand.

(Updated at 2:45 p.m. on 3/13/13)

Bill Britt has a new article today on the David Azbell video, which can be viewed below. The Britt piece is titled "Hubbard's Chief Consultant says, "Cigars, booze, and good-looking women: That's how Azbell rolls in Vegas." Here is Britt's take on the video:

In what can be only be characterized as shocking, David Azbell, chief consultant to Speaker of the House Hubbard, made a video of himself partying in Las Vegas. Azbell who is paid $8,000 dollars a month in his position with Hubbard, is also founding partner of Swatek, Azbell, Howe & Ross (SAHR), a governmental and political affairs firm located in Montgomery, Alabama.

Azbell co-authored Hubbard's vanity publishing project, "Storming the State House." Hubbard, has long portrayed himself and those in his service as anti-gambling, religious conservatives. However, it appears that his right-hand associated has a liking for, "Cigars, Booze and Good Looking Women."

How is it that Speaker Hubbard employs a man who makes a video in which he appears to be extolling the virtues of gambling, strippers, sex-clubs and other vices?

Azbell's video which has been posted online for over nine months recently surfaced. As a partner with Dax Swatek, Tim Howe and John Ross, Azbell represents some of Alabama's most important lobbying groups such as the Road Builder's Association, Learning Through Sports, and The Alabama Asphalt Pavement Association.

It seems incredible to believe that Mike Hubbard, a man known for his constant vigilance, was unaware of Azbell, semi-pornography video.

This is not the first time Azbell has shown questionable judgment, Britt reports:

It has been long rumored that Azbell left the staff of Governor Bob Riley under a cloud of suspicion involving a young staffer. Toby Roth, who was Bob Riley's Chief of Staff, is said to be the man who handle the settlement with the young staffer in question. Roth refused to answer any questions concerning the matter. The Alabama Political Report has filed a under the Open Record Act requesting all email communications between the staffer and Roth. A staffer who served in the office at the time said that the individual received a settlement in the $50,000 dollar range.

Hubbard, who continues to preach a gospel of conservative government and Alabama Values, seems to find no reason to not employee a man like Azbell who has shown questionable judgement if not outright contempt for the values most Alabamians hold dear.




Untitled from Uhhhh Ohhhhhh on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

From Frigid Room Conditions To Frozen Water Pipes, U Of Maine Students Find The Grove Isn't So Hot


The Grove at Orono, Maine
What's it like to attend college in Maine and discover that your apartment is not properly heated--when the calendar says it's January? What's it like to realize the water pipes at your apartment in Maine tend to freeze in winter?

Apparently it isn't much fun because several University of Maine students are considering legal action over these problems, and more, at The Grove apartment complex near the campus in Orono.

Why does this story resonate here in relatively balmy Alabama? The Grove is the banner under which Charlotte-based Campus Crest Communities builds and manages student-apartment complexes near some 40 universities around the country. Campus Crest CEO Ted Rollins belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families--the folks behind Orkin Pest Control and parent company Rollins Inc. in Atlanta--and showed during an Alabama divorce case styled Rollins v. Rollins that he is willing to use the court system in an abusive fashion.

Are UMaine students about to be on the receiving end of courtroom cheat jobs like the one Sherry Carroll Rollins, Ted's ex wife, experienced here in Shelby County, Alabama? We might soon find out.

Published reports indicate students in Orono have plenty of reasons to be unhappy with the product that Ted Rollins' company turns out. From a Bangor Daily News report in late January:

Residents of The Grove, a new apartment complex that is home to hundreds of University of Maine students, experienced a series of problems last week as a result of the recent cold snap.

Among the inconveniences were power outages due to transformers too small to handle the amount of electricity being consumed, frozen water pipes and frozen sprinkler systems.

Residents pay an average monthly rent of $525 per person, and Campus Crest touts its facilities as featuring "fully loaded living," with amenities not normally found in college dorms. But some UMaine students say the amenities do not always include heat. Consider the experience of Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin, as reported by Maine Campus, the student newspaper:

One day after an interview and a tour of her apartment by Orono town officials, she sent The Maine Campus a photo of her bedroom window. There was a 2-inch-high chunk of ice on its inside, freezing it shut.

MacDonald-Coffin's problems do not end there--and Campus Crest's response to her concerns has been less than reassuring:

When Chelsea MacDonald-Coffin moved into her new apartment in September at The Grove in Orono, she didn’t expect mold in her bathroom.

She said complex officials hired a company to stop the mold by bringing in dehumidifiers. An employee of that company then told her the problem wouldn’t be resolved unless carpeting was redone.

“I brought the issues to a [visiting] corporate representative,” said MacDonald-Coffin, a second-year management student at the University of Maine. “She basically said that I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

William Murphy, Orono code enforcement director, said The Grove met building standards. But residents remain skeptical, especially since the entire complex was constructed in nine months:

The Grove has had problems with heating, electricity and mold that some tenants say is causing health problems. Last month, tenants were plunged in and out of darkness for a week because the heat pumps used in the complex overtaxed its electrical system.

The kinds of problems experienced — especially when winter hit — led tenants and others to believe that Campus Crest, which has about 40 properties nationwide, had built a facility designed for warmer climes. They questioned whether it met building standards for northeastern states such as Maine.

During an interview, Murphy described the permitting and inspection process leading to The Grove’s opening.

According to Murphy, The Grove was designed to the standards of the International Building Code for this climate district.

“It has to be updated for the area. I don’t know if they have something in Florida but let’s use Florida as an example,” he said. “You can’t build the same kind of housing development in Maine that you would in Florida.”

Some tenants say they are considering legal action. From a news report dated February 5:

As of this week, 15 to 20 tenants of the new Orono apartment complex who attend classes at the University of Maine have sought legal assistance on problems ranging from mold and higher than expected overage fees for electricity to substandard construction and staff entering apartments without providing the “reasonable notice” required by state law, according to Sean O’Mara, undergraduate student legal aid attorney.

“I would say most, if not all, do not want to continue their leases,” said O’Mara, who recently brought the Bangor law firm Pelletier & Faircloth into the effort to get the student tenants’ complaints resolved.

“I can say that the number of people trying to get out of their leases with the Grove [has been] much higher than what I’ve seen for Orchard Trails,” another Orono apartment complex largely populated by college students.

What form might legal action take?

“We’re looking at potential civil options for these students right now. I’m not precluding anything in particular,” O’Mara said. He said that he also is exploring potential violations of Maine’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, the state’s basic consumer protection law.

The Unfair Trade Practices Act prohibits businesses from using unfair or deceptive practices and can be enforced by the attorney general or by consumers who actually have lost money because of an unfair trade practice, according to the state attorney general’s website.