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Thursday, August 29, 2013

AL Attorney Bill Baxley Makes Ludicrous Assertions In His Letter Seeking Retraction For Jessica Garrison


Bill Baxley
How did I respond to Jessica Medeiros Garrison's threat of a defamation lawsuit over my reporting on her extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange?

In polite language, I told her attorney, Bill Baxley of Birmingham, to more or less shove it. My language might not have been so polite had I realized at the time that Garrison's threats almost certainly were not driven by any genuine belief that my reporting on the affair is false. Rather, Baxley probably is trying to scare me away from reporting on another Garrison-related matter, which they know I'm investigating.


I take lawsuits, and threats of lawsuits, seriously. But it's hard not to look at Baxley's letter as somewhat of a joke when you consider its assertions about harassing-communications law in Alabama--and anywhere else.


We will address that legal issue in a moment, but first, here is the response I sent to Baxley via e-mail about an hour after I read his letter:



Mr. Baxley:
I am in receipt of your letter dated Aug. 16, 2013. Please be advised that the material you cite in my blog, Legal Schnauzer, is not false or defamatory, and I will make no retraction.
Your contention that it constitutes harassing communications for a journalist to present questions to, or seek comment from, an individual who is engaged in the public political arena . . . well, it's not remotely supported by law--and such a ridiculous claim should be beneath an attorney of your long standing. I have no intent to harass or alarm Ms. Garrison; I am giving her an opportunity to respond to questions about matters of public concern. I not only have a right as a reporter to make such an inquiry, I have an obligation to do so. If I see fit to seek Ms. Garrison's comment for future articles, I will do so. If she sees fit not to respond, that is her right, and I will proceed accordingly.
Finally, be advised that anyone who files a groundless lawsuit against me will be met with an appropriate counterclaim and motion for sanctions--against her and her attorney.

Sincerely,

Roger Shuler

As you can see, two can play the "threatening a lawsuit" game. But more importantly, you also can see my pointed response to Baxley's claims regarding harassing-communications law. Here are the specifics from his letter. (The full letter can be viewed at the end of this post.)



I have advised our client not to reply to any pending "inquiries" she may have received from you. In addition, by this writing, take notice of our representation of Jessica Medeiros Garrison and do not, again, attempt to contact her directly. Be further warned, by this writing, that persistence by you in attempting to have direct contact with our client for any reason will constitute harassing communications within the ambit of Code of Ala. 13A-11-8, which provides criminal penalties for communications with a person,  anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telegraph, mail or other form of written or electronic communication in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm. Take notice of our demand, on behalf of our client, that you preserve any and all communications sent, received, published or existing in any manner regarding her, not deleting or destroying any of them.

Baxley conveniently left out a few important elements of harassing-communications law. Here is the actual law from 13A-11-8, which is titled "Harassment or Harassing Communications:


(b)(1) HARASSING COMMUNICATIONS.
A person commits the crime of harassing communications if, with intent to harass or alarm another person, he or she does any of the following:
a. Communicates with a person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telegraph, mail, or any other form of written or electronic communication, in a manner likely to harass or cause alarm.
b. Makes a telephone call, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication.
c. Telephones another person and addresses to or about such other person any lewd or obscene words or language.
Nothing in this section shall apply to legitimate business telephone communications.
(2) Harassing communications is a Class C misdemeanor.

If Bill Baxley wants to see an example of real harassing communications, he should read his own letter. I have sent Jessica Garrison two e-mails--one requesting an interview about reports I had received regarding an affair with Luther Strange, and the other seeking comment about two issues that grew from my reporting. I will be publishing those e-mails in an upcoming post.

The bolded sections above point out two key segments of the law on harassing communications: (1) To even come close to meeting the elements of the crime, the communication must be done "with intent to harass or alarm another person"; (2) It must be done outside "legitimate business telephone communications."

Based on Baxley's own words, my communications with Jessica Garrison were not intended to harass or alarm her. Baxley devotes about two pages of his letter to information from six blog posts I've written about Jessica Garrison. My inquiries to her were related to my reporting on those articles--and they are the kinds of inquiries journalists across the globe make every day. As such, these inquiries are legitimate business communications, and this section of law plainly does not apply. 

Bill Baxley has been on the Alabama political and legal scenes for a long time, and he has to know his assertions regarding harassing communications are off target to an absurd degree. If Baxley's version of the law ruled, a journalist would be arrested every time he posed a question that the listener found the least bit unpleasant. Our jails and prisons would be packed with journalists--and some might consider that a good thing.

The truth is this: Bill  Baxley is the one sending harassing communications. Someone as connected as him almost has to know my reporting on the Garrison/Strange affair is true. Even more troubling, though, Baxley probably knows the real motivations behind Jessica Garrison's concerns--and it has nothing to do with my reporting on her affair.

In fact, my research indicates Jessica Garrison hired Bill Baxley for a specific reason.


Lee "Penis Nose" Garrison Wins School-Board Race, But Most PAC-Backed Candidates Struggle in T-Town



A Lee Garrison "Penis Nose" flyer was
distributed for the 2005 City Council race

Maybe those photos of Lee Garrison wearing a penis nose are being distributed by Mr. Garrison himself. If so, it seems to be a winning strategy.


An alert Legal Schnauzer reader provided us with a copy of a flyer that made the rounds before a Tuscaloosa municipal election in August 2005. The flyer included a photo of Garrison wearing a penis nose and mockingly encouraged voters to elect "the more mature candidate." The tactic hurt Garrison so badly that he won re-election to the City Council.


The same photo, cropped to eliminate an unidentified gentleman who appears to be giving Garrison an award at a 2003 Halloween party, made its way to Legal Schnauzer recently, and we reported on it last week. Our traffic from Tuscaloosa shot through the roof in recent days, so we know the photo has been seen. But did voters care? The answer must be no because they narrowly elected Garrison on Tuesday to serve as chair of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education.


Garrison headed a slate of school-board candidates who took on incumbents and drew strong support from corporate-style PACS. Most of the pro-business candidates, however, did not fare so well. Garrison and Cason Kirby (District 4) were the only ones who won. Incumbents held off PAC-backed candidates, and their substantial campaign war chests, in four other races.


An excellent summary of the Tuscaloosa elections can be found at The Franklin Stove Blog, at ttowntruthseeker.com, in a post titled "Judgment Day and The Machine." Did The Machine, the famed University of Alabama political operation, have an impact on the municipal elections. The Franklin Stove Blog provides insights:



Cason Kirby, who received over $14,000 from the ET PAC alone, was victorious in his race against School Board incumbent Kelly Horwitz, but not because of the size of his campaign chest. His win can be attributed solely to the support of The Machine. The District 4 polling place was swamped by students, many of whom were wearing tee-shirts commemorating the Greek Fest, the Sigma Nu Shipwreck Party or other fraternal milestones. They came from Tennessee, Oregon, Georgia, California and other states to vote for candidates who were running in a local school board race in Alabama.

The students more than likely were required to return to their Houses wearing the "I voted" stickers that they were given after voting. One person sympathetic to Horwitz said that she wished she could have stood outside the polling place with a roll of stickers and handed them out to students to save them the trouble of casting ballots. It was reported by one poll worker that some students were so unfamiliar with the voting process that, once they were checked off the list of registered voters, they forgot to pick up their ballots. Others left their drivers license, which many had used as an ID, on the tables where they marked their ballot. Some showed up not knowing if they were registered in Tuscaloosa or in another city. There were an unusually large number of "provisional ballots" cast due to uncertainties about voter eligibility.


Even Gawker weighed in on the election, with a report about sorority girls being offered free drinks to vote.

As for Lee Garrison, the "penis nose" photo was not the only baggage he carried into the school-board election. He and his ex wife, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, have a business relationship with a man named Erik Davis Harp, who grew up in Tuscaloosa and lists a recent address of Las Vegas. Harp was one of two kingpins indicted in the investigation of an illegal sports betting ring that was based in Panama and generated $20 million a month. The ring reportedly has ties to the Gambino and Genovese crime families.

In other words, Lee Garrison has roundabout connections to the Mafia, but do Tuscaloosa voters care? Apparently not.


On top of that, news surfaced that Jessica Garrison made nasty statements about her ex in documents from their child-custody case. Never mind that Jessica Garrison has been carrying on a long-running affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and probably has no grounds to make judgments about others. Here is part of what she said about Lee Garrison:



The father has repeatedly exhibited a willingness to forfeit time with his son to pursue recreational and social activities that often involve excessive drinking and late nights. He also admittedly has had a gambling problem and takes controlled medications for which he has no prescription or medical need. The father also has a bad temper and a consistent tendency to rage, often in the presence of the child. Moreover, the father and his wife are cigarette smokers and have pets, both of which contribute to the child's ongoing allergies.

Ouch! That's rough stuff, but our coverage of the Tuscaloosa municipal elections has taught us a few things about politics in west Alabama:

1. Tuscaloosa residents kind of like it when a candidate parades around with a penis nose on his face. They see it as a sign of light-heartedness, not immaturity;


2. Tuscaloosa residents kind of like it when a candidate has roundabout connections to the Mob. Perhaps they figure, "Hey, if Paul Bryant Jr. can head the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, why not vote for the Mafia-connected candidate on the school board."


3. Tuscaloosa residents don't give a rip what Jessica Garrison says, in a court document or anywhere else.


I have doubts about Lee Garrison's ability to be an effective school-board chair, especially given his corporate backing. But on item No. 3, I have to side with Tuscaloosa's zany voters.


By the way, here is the text of a letter that Lee Garrison sent to supporters yesterday, blaming campaign attacks against him on Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate. One of the more interesting developments in the campaign was the appearance of a Web site called ourleegarrison.com. Garrison apparently believes Pate was behind the site and took exception to some of its offerings. Here is Garrison's message to voters:



Dear Tuscaloosa:
 As many of you may know, Stan Pate has launched a vicious and untrue personal attack on me and my family. My response is simply this, I pray for Stan. I pray for God to help him in only the way that God can heal. My family is very upset over what he has done, but we forgive him for his actions and I pray that Tuscaloosa will do the same. We all are sinners and we all make mistakes in life. 
Please Tuscaloosa, come together today and vote for a positive direction for our children and let us all forgive someone today who has hurt us in some way so we can heal as a community!
God Bless,


Lee Garrison

Garrison might be urging "healing" in the community, but his lawyer has been sending threatening letters to Stan Pate's counsel. It seems Garrison has a peculiar way of "forgiving" Mr. Pate.

The letters were included on ourleegarrison.com, which had been taken down yesterday. But today, it seems to have risen from the ashes.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Forced Exit Of Judge Young In VictoryLand Case Butchers Precedent On "Personal Bias" Standard


Judge Thomas Young
During the prosecution of a 1987 capital-murder case, an Alabama judge made statements from the bench that indicated he believed the defendant's actions to be "heinous, atrocious, and cruel." The judge then overrode the jury's verdict of life in prison and sentenced the defendant, Joe Cecil Duncan Jr., to death.

Duncan eventually received a retrial and filed a petition for writ of mandamus, asking the Alabama Supreme Court to force the trial judge off the case because his statements from the bench had demonstrated prejudice. The Supreme Court refused, stating that the judge's remarks did not represent the kind of "personal bias" that would "reasonably call his impartiality into question" and force recusal.


That appellate ruling, styled Ex parte Duncan, 638 So. 2d 1132 (Ala., 1994), established black-letter law that governs recusal of an Alabama judge. 


A citizen might assume that the justices on today's Alabama high court are well acquainted with the finding in Ex parte Duncan. After all, their predecessors established the law, and under the doctrine of stare decisis, the current-day justices are bound to abide by it.


So how did the high court release an order last week that obliterated the binding precedent of the Duncan case? How did the court force Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young off the VictoryLand forfeiture case when no "personal bias" was even alleged, must less shown?


The only answer we can fathom is that our all-Republican high court is so corrupted by political and financial considerations that it no longer takes its legal duties seriously.


Last Friday's ruling in Ex parte State of Alabama makes clear that Attorney General Luther Strange makes no showing, or even allegation, of personal bias against Judge Young. (See full order at the end of this post.) Rather, Strange repeatedly disagrees with Young's interpretation of the law regarding the AG's request for a search warrant at VictoryLand.


The Supreme Court follows suit, claiming Young erroneously applied the law in several instances and exhibited a lack of deference toward the high court itself. The court then issues the writ of mandamus, forcing Young off the case so that "the appearance of justice will be preserved." In reaching such a conclusion, the Supreme Court cites a litany of federal cases that are not applicable or binding in the VictoryLand matter.


What is applicable and binding? It's Ex parte Duncan, but the high court goes to considerable lengths to ignore it. We won't make the same mistake here.


At the heart of the Duncan case was the murder of a state trooper named Elizabeth Cobb. The trial involved disturbing evidence, and the judge apparently allowed himself to get carried away with statements from the bench. Here, from an appellate ruling some seven years after the murder, is a portion of what he said about the circumstances surrounding Elizabeth Cobb's murder:



You know, I just ask myself one simple question; if we got news that they were slaughtering cattle this way in the stockyard, what would the reaction be? Would we say that that's heinous, atrocious and cruel? I would.

Many citizens probably would agree with the judge's statement. But that's not what we expect to hear from someone who is charged with being an impartial arbiter from the bench. Neither is this:


Now the murder in this case was premeditated, it was diabolical, methodical, heartless, cruel, cold, deliberate, it was planned. It was a planned execution and slaughter of an innocent young lady while she quietly and peacefully waited unsuspectingly on the sacred grounds of a little country church on the Sabbath evening. . . . There was no excuse, there was no justification, for a vile, conscienceless, pitiless murder.

The judge left no doubt about where he stood--and you can see where the defendant might not want him to preside over a retrial. But the Alabama Supreme Court found in Ex parte Duncan that the judge's statements did not disqualify him. That's because his statements came in his judicial capacity, not from an extrajudicial source that might lead to personal bias. From the Supreme Court's 1994 ruling:


Therefore, for Duncan to demonstrate a clear right to the relief sought by the mandamus petition, he must show the appearance of impropriety by showing that the alleged bias, hostility, or prejudice is "personal" rather than "judicial":
The alleged bias and prejudice to be disqualifying must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.

The high court then took it a step farther:


In this case, we cannot say, as a matter of law, that the trial judge's statements in and of themselves show bias, hostility, or prejudice toward Duncan; therefore, we cannot say that Duncan has demonstrated a clear legal right to have the trial judge remove himself. The trial judge's statements arose out of a judicial proceeding, not from an extrajudicial source; and although the trial judge's expressed opinions may have been better left unsaid, in our opinion the remarks he made do not show bias, hostility, or prejudice against Duncan arising from a "personal," i.e., extrajudicial, source.

In concluding, the Supreme Court said the burden was on Duncan to make a clear showing that recusal was required--and he failed to reach that high bar. The same bar was set for Luther Strange, and like Duncan, he failed to reach it.

Like Duncan, Strange based his mandamus petition on Judge Young's statements and actions from the bench. But he never came close to showing that Young had a "personal bias" that could be traced to an "extrajudicial source." Strange, in fact, did not even try to make such a showing.

How did the Alabama Supreme Court get around that slight problem. By ignoring Ex parte Duncan altogether and pretty much creating law from the bench. 

In other words, our Republican justices did exactly what they vow, as "strict constructionists," to never do--they legislated from the bench.

Actually, they probably did far worse than that. We will stipulate that the justices on Alabama's high court are not ignorant, and they surely know how to conduct relatively simple legal research. If that's the case, it means they knew the correct legal standard for recusal in the VictoryLand forfeiture matter and chose to ignore it. That can only mean external forces are influencing the court's decisions, which would constitute fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and perhaps other federal crimes.

Many Alabamians reflexively have voted Republican in recent years on statewide judicial races--probably from a misguided notion that conservative justices will be tough on street crime. We now know that creates an environment where justices themselves can engage in white-collar crime that endangers us all.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Legal Schnauzer Earns A Prominent Place In Survey Of The Top 50 Independent Law Blogs In N. America



Legal Schnauzer ranks among the top 50 independent law blogs in North America for 2012, according to a recent survey by a media-relations software and research company in Chicago.

Our blog, which launched in June 2007, ranks at No. 37 in a survey conducted by Cision, which describes itself as "the leading global provider of media relations software services and solutions for public relations professionals."

The top five blogs on the list are (1) Above the Law; (2) The Volokh Conspiracy; (3) Grits for Breakfast; (4) TalkLeft: The Politics of Crime; and (5) The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. (The full rankings can be viewed at the end of this post.)

I must confess to being late to the party on this. Cision released the rankings on November 16, 2012, and I didn't find out about it until one evening last week. How did it come to my attention? Well, that requires another confession: In pursuit of self-satisfaction (and glorification?), I was Googling my own blog. The first four pages of results produced material I had seen before, but on page five, I happened to spot something that referenced "Legal Schnauzer and top 50 law blogs."

My immediate response? It was something, "What the hell?" (And yes, when a new phone directory arrives, my first act is to check and make sure my name is in there.)

When I clicked on the link and discovered that a media-relations company in Chicago had kindly included me in its list of top 50 law blogs, I was dumbfounded. What was my exact reaction? After wetting myself three or four times in glee--and running down the stairs to break the news to Mrs. Schnauzer at the top of my lungs--I thought I handled myself with professional aplomb.

In a moment of trying to channel Sally Field, I might have said something along the lines of, "They like me, they really like me!"

Seriously, this is a pretty nice achievement--and the recognition is deeply appreciated. On top of that, I have no idea how Legal Schnauzer came to make the rankings. I don't recall ever hearing from anyone at Cision, before or after the rankings came out. I don't recall anyone telling me they were nominating my blog for such a survey. 

I have learned that Cision conducts surveys of top blogs in a variety of fields--education, automotive, public relations, food, travel, weddings, PR and marketing, consumer electronics, etc.

Kristen Sala, senior manager for electronic media, wrote the blog post that introduces the top 50 law blogs for 2012, and here is how she describes the process used for compiling the rankings:


Law surrounds us daily. It affects all of us, from a politician running for office, to the head of a successful PR firm, to the author of an independent blog who works out of the comfort of her home. The law has even made its way into a few prior CisionBlog posts, including our piece outlining Twitter's copyright infringement policy, and our Q&A on content publishing and distribution.
In light of this ever-present topic, we ranked the top 50 independent law blogs in North America. The list was created using Cision's media database, and blogs are ranked based on our Cision Influence Rating. Reaching out to varied audiences, these blogs cover a range of law-related issues. Some offer tips to future law professionals on how to get into law school, while others offer tips to seasoned attorneys on how to keep themselves organized or argue a case. There are blogs that approach law from an outside perspective, offering unbiased updates on recent trials and cases; while others focus on one branch of law and might offer consumers an inside scoop on taxes or copyright.

Here is the Cision top 50 for 2012. As you can see, our little blog is in some lofty company:


Monday, August 26, 2013

Here Is How A Pair of Politicos From Tuscaloosa Have Ties To Gambino and Genovese Crime Families


The late Mafia kingpin
John Gotti, of the
Gambino family
The Alabama political scene seems an unlikely place for the names of two famed Mafia families to surface. Anyone who has seen The Godfather, Goodfellas, or other Mob movies is likely to associate the Gambino and Genovese crime families with New York City. But we have seen recent signs that organized crime can reach into the Heart of Dixie.

Certain urban areas in the Deep South, especially Atlanta and Miami, are known to host crime-family operations. But a possible Mafia influence in the relatively sedate college town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama? Most Americans probably would not expect to see that. But two political figures--both conservatives, with deep roots in The Machine culture surrounding the University of Alabama--have a business relationship with a man who, according to law-enforcement officials, has ties to the Mob.


Republican operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison and her former husband, Tuscaloosa city councilman Lee Garrison, are partners with a man named Erik Davis Harp in a real-estate venture called Margaritaville, LLC.  The company was formed in 2004, with a registered office address of 1201 Greensboro, Avenue, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401. 


Harp's business pursuits, however, appear to go well beyond real estate. He was one of 30 people indicted in October 2009 in connection with what one press outlet called "a gambling ring with ties to organized crime." Harp was 36 years old at the time of the indictment, and his address was listed as Las Vegas, Nevada. But his roots are in Tuscaloosa, and he apparently met the Garrisons while all three attended the University of Alabama.


Should the public be concerned about this? Well, the Garrisons are significant political players in our state. Jessica Garrison served as campaign manager for Luther Strange's successful 2010 campaign for attorney general and now works for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and the Balch Bingham law firm. Lee Garrison has served on the Tuscaloosa City Council since 1997 and currently is running for chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board, with that spot to be determined in municipal elections tomorrow.


For good measure, the Garrisons are no strangers to controversy. Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange have engaged in a long-running extramarital affair, and she recently hired attorney Bill Baxley to threaten me with a lawsuit for reporting on the matter. Meanwhile, a photograph surfaced last week of Lee Garrison wearing a "penis nose" costume at a Halloween party in 2003.  


What does all of this say about the Garrison's judgment? Perhaps that question is best left to voters and the general public. But the Garrisons' ties to Erik Davis Harp might be hard to sweep away.


After all, it's not as if Harp was indicted in a small-time gambling operation; law-enforcement officials say the international sports-betting ring, with servers in Panama, generated more than $20 million a month. Also, Harp was not a peripheral figure; authorities say he and a Farmington, New York, man named Joseph J. Fafone oversaw the entire operation.

A 38-month investigation, called Operation Betting It All, produced evidence that Harp has connections to hard-core criminals. From a press release, quoting Queens, New York, district attorney Richard A. Brown:


“The defendants are accused of operating an incredibly lucrative gambling operation – taking in more than $20 million a month, on average. Such unlawfully earned profits are often – and easily – diverted to more insidious criminal enterprises. In fact, the investigation uncovered evidence that the enterprise had links to both the Gambino and Genovese crime families.”


A report at ny1.com identifies  Fafone as an associate of the Gambino family and describes him delivering more than a half million dollars in winnings to one gambler. Fafone's No. 1 associate in the enterprise, it appears, was Erik Davis Harp . . . originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama:



Some of the suspects allegedly belonged to the Gambino crime family, including Joseph Fafone, seen above, who was arrested yesterday at an airport in Rochester, N.Y. while boarding a plane to Panama with $23,000 in cash on his person.
The alleged gambling ring made about $23 million a month on websites including BetAllSportsHere.com, BetMSG.com and BetOnline.com. While the ring was run in the city, the websites' computer servers were based in Panama.
After conducting more than two years of investigation, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that all but three of the suspects were arrested.
"The principal in this case, Gambino associate Joseph J. Fafone, personally delivered $553,000 in winnings to one of the gamblers," said Kelly. "Most proceeds were seized soon thereafter [in Long Island] when the [gambler] was stopped by the police for driving while using a cell phone."

How much dirty money was circulating through the betting ring? The New York Times helps provide the answer:



Thirty people and a corporation were indicted in Queens in connection with an offshore sports betting operation with links to organized crime that took in a “staggering” half-billion dollars in wagers, New York authorities said on Wednesday.


One can easily understand why authorities described the money involved as "staggering."

That the whole sordid enterprise has roundabout connections to Tuscaloosa--and Jessica and Lee Garrison--might also be considered "staggering."

Ala. Supreme Court Tramples Controlling Precedent In Forcing Judge Off VictoryLand Forfeiture Case


Judge Thomas Young
The Alabama Supreme Court repeatedly violated its own precedent in ruling last Friday that Macon County Circuit Judge Thomas Young must step down from a forfeiture case involving February's law-enforcement raids at VictoryLand casino.

Attorney General Luther Strange filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking Young's recusal after the judge refused to approve a search warrant at VictoryLand. Under Alabama law, mandamus is the appropriate vehicle for seeking a trial judge's recusal, but it is an "extraordinary remedy that will not lie unless the petitioner can show a clear right to legal relief." In order to clear that high bar, petitioner must show that a judge's alleged bias is "personal," not "judicial."


Strange did not come close to showing that Young exhibited personal bias. Rather, the AG repeatedly pointed to examples of Young's judicial actions with which he did not agree. That does not meet the standard of personal bias required by law, but the Alabama Supreme Court granted Strange's petition anyway. (See the court's opinion at the end of this post.)


This is just the latest in a long line of preposterous rulings that show Alabama's high court no longer makes any pretense of being a fair and impartial tribunal.  Rather, it is a rubber stamp for corporate interests, especially those who support Strange, former Governor Bob Riley, and their favored law firm, Bradley Arant of downtown Birmingham.


Why does Bradley Arant care about raids at non-Indian gaming facilities in Alabama? It all comes down to cash. Published reports show that Bob Riley funneled $536,115 in taxpayer dollars to the firm for gambling-related work in 2010. Since Strange took office in January 2011, he has shipped $364,000 to his former firm for work on gambling cases.


Do Riley and Strange--with the help of Bradley Arant--have the pull to cause Alabama's high court to ignore controlling law on important issues? The answer appears to be yes.


Let's consider a few key cases that should have forced the Supreme Court to deny Strange's petition:


* Ex parte Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union, 477 So. 2d 379 (Ala., 1985)--This case holds that "mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that will not lie unless the petitioner can show a clear legal right to relief." A review of the Supreme Court's ruling in the VictoryLand matter reveals that Strange failed to show a clear legal right to relief. In fact, the high court's finding is based largely on Judge Young's response to the AG's petition, not on any showing from the AG himself. The Supreme Court claims that Young made a number of incorrect rulings from the bench--and failed to show proper deference to the high court itself--but those are not grounds, under the law, for forcing recusal.


The Ex parte Army Aviation Center case also states: "There must be no other adequate remedy. . . . Mandamus is not a substitute for appeal." Strange clearly has another adequate remedy in the VictoryLand forfeiture case. If Young rules that cash and electronic-bingo machines should be returned to the casino, Strange can appeal that order. The law cannot be more clear--mandamus is not a substitute for appeal. But Luther Strange is using it for exactly that. 


* Ex parte Duncan, 638 So. 2d 1332 (Ala., 1994)--This case holds that "for Duncan to demonstrate a clear right to the relief sought by the mandamus petition, he must show the appearance of impropriety by showing that the alleged bias, hostility, or prejudice is "personal" rather than "judicial." The alleged bias and prejudice to be disqualifying must stem from an extrajudicial source and result in an opinion on the merits on some basis other than what the judge learned from his participation in the case.'"


Here is a fictional example of a personal bias that stems from an extrajudicial source: Judge Smith is hearing a case styled Bob's Automotive v. Fred's Bank. Attorneys for Bob's Automotive seek recusal, showing that Judge Smith's daughter works for Fred's Bank. Furthermore, they show that when Judge Smith was in private practice, he and his firm represented Fred's Bank on a number of occasions. Even if Judge Smith believes he can hear the case in an impartial fashion, this is the kind of personal bias that raises the "appearance of impropriety" under Alabama law. Judge Smith should step down, and if he doesn't, an appellate court has legal grounds to issue a writ of mandamus that forces him to step down.


Luther Strange points to no such personal bias that would require Judge Young's recusal. So why did the Alabama Supreme Court grant Strange's petition? The only conclusion we can reach is that the high court is crooked, perhaps tainted by cash from Indian gaming facilities, and it has been for a long time.


The Supreme Court's actions in the VictoryLand matter are both unlawful and inconsistent. The Houston Economic Development Association (HEDA) last year sought the recusal of Judge Mike Conaway in a forfeiture case involving Center Stage Alabama in Dothan. In that instance, Luther Strange tried to make sure that Conaway did NOT recuse himself, even though potential personal bias clearly was present. Here is how we summed it up in an April post, noting the AG's radically different approaches to Judge Conaway in Houston County and Judge Young in Macon County:



What's the difference between Judge Conaway and Judge Young? Former Governor Bob Riley, one of Strange's close Republican allies and an avowed gaming opponent, appointed Conaway to the bench. Sonny Reagan, who now is Strange's chief lieutenant in the attorney general's office, interviewed Conaway for the judicial position while serving in the Riley administration.

How did the Supreme Court react to signs that Judge Conaway might exhibit personal bias? It let him stay on the case and did so in a cowardly fashion--declining to hear HEDA's petition, without explanation.

In the case of Judge Young, the high court heard the case and found personal bias where none existed--and where, in fact, none even was alleged. 

Many Alabamians probably are too enraptured with the upcoming college football season to concern themselves with blatant corruption on our state's highest court. But the stark truth is this: Our all-Republican appellate courts continue to use tax dollars to trash state law and trample the rights to due process and equal protection that our supposed to be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

But this is not just a matter of civil rights. It almost certainly involves a number of federal crimes, including mail and wire fraud, honest-services fraud, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and more. 

Here is a scary thought: Strange filed his mandamus petition in late March, but the Alabama Supreme Court waited until late August--almost five months--to issue its corrupt ruling. Did the justices know that Alabamians would be distracted by football in late August, so they intentionally held their VictoryLand ruling until then?

Do the justices see us as a bunch of saps who will allow our obsession with college football to blind us to corruption that is right under our noses?

Are the justices right about that?


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Ex Aide To Luther Strange Has Business Connections To Man Indicted In Panama Gambling Investigation


Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange
The former campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, and her ex husband, have a business relationship with a man who was indicted in an investigation of a sports-betting ring in Panama.

Jessica Medeiros Garrison and her former husband, Tuscaloosa city councilman Lee Garrison, are partners with Erik Davis Harp in Margaritaville, LLC. Records from the Alabama Secretary of State's office show the company was formed in 2004 and is engaged in the business of real estate. The firm has a registered office street address of 1201 Greensboro, Ave., Tuscaloosa, AL, 35401.


Harp was among 30 people indicted in October 2009 in connection with what one press outlet called "a gambling ring with ties to organized crime." Harp was 36 years old at the time of the indictment, and his address was listed as Las Vegas, Nevada. But his roots are in Tuscaloosa, and he apparently met the Garrisons while all three attended the University of Alabama. (A number of press reports about the gambling probe misspell Harp's first name as "Eric".)


Jessica Garrison has engaged in a long-running extramarital affair with Luther Strange and guided his 2010 campaign to victory on a staunch anti-gambling platform. Since his election, Strange has authorized raids that shut down electronic-bingo facilities at VictoryLand in Macon County and Center Stage Alabama in Houston County.


Lee Garrison has served on the Tuscaloosa City Council since 1997 but is giving up that seat to run for chair of the Tuscaloosa City School Board in the August 27 municipal elections.  


We are not aware of Lee Garrison taking a public stance on gambling one way or another. But Jessica Garrison has been a vocal critic of gambling, aggressively attacking former Attorney General Troy King on the issue. That makes her connections to Erik Davis Harp particularly surprising--and some might say outlandishly hypocritical.


Was Harp involved in a small-time illegal gambling operation? Not exactly. Authorities in Queens, New York, led a 38-month investigation called "Operation Betting It All" and found the ring generated $20 million a month.


Was Harp a small-time player in the operation? The answer, again, is no. Authorities say he and Joseph J. Fafone, of Farmington, New York, oversaw the entire operation. From an October 22, 2009, report at MPNnow.com, of Canandaigua, New York:



Joseph J. Fafone, 48, of Pheasants Crossing in Farmington, was apprehended Tuesday at Rochester International Airport. Fafone, who officials say was bound for Panama, had roughly $24,000 in cash with him when he was arrested, according to Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown.
The defendants are charged with enterprise corruption — a violation of the state’s Organized Crime Control Act — as well as money laundering, promoting gambling and conspiracy.
Authorities say a sports gambling operation took in more than $20 million per month, which was "diverted to more insidious criminal enterprises" linked to both the Gambino and Genovese crime families.

The story never mentions an Alabama connection. But it is there, with Erik Davis Harp's name front and center:


The 38-month investigation was known as “Operation Betting It All.” The alleged sports gambling ring operated on Web sites including BetAllSportsHere.com, BetMSG.com and BetOnline.com. While the ring was run in New York City, the Web sites' computer servers were based in Panama.
Fafone and Eric Davis Harp, 36, of Las Vegas allegedly oversaw the entire operation, Brown said.
Louis P. Lippa Jr., 61, of Great Wood Court in Fairport, and David Valerio, 61, of Meriden Street in Rochester, are two of nine alleged money collectors for the ring.
Of the others charged, 17 were arrested in Queens, and nine were arrested in upstate New York, Florida, Nevada and Illinois. Three others are currently being sought. More than $3 million in cash has been seized.

How serious is this matter? A law-enforcement official in New York provides perspective:


"Gambling proceeds [are] the fuel that drives organized crime," said New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. "The staggering amount of money in this case demonstrates just that. In this instance, however, the bookies ran out of luck."

Here is additional perspective that hits close to home for those of us who live in Alabama. Erik Davis Harp is from Tuscaloosa, and he was a kingpin in an illegal gambling operation that generated $20 million a month. Harp has a documented business history with Jessica Medieros Garrison, who helped Luther Strange get elected as Alabama's chief law-enforcement officer on a staunch anti-gambling platform. Strange has acted on his supposed convictions by causing two electronic-bingo facilities to be closed.

The bottom line? A clear path can be drawn from Erik Davis Harp to Jessica Garrison (and Lee Garrison) to Luther Strange. That should raise questions about Lee Garrison's suitability for a spot on the Tuscaloosa School Board. And it should raise extremely serious questions about Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison, and their close associates . . . who have ridden to power on claims that they are morally opposed to gambling.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Has The Baxley Family Conned Ricky Stokes News On My Reporting Of The Garrison/Strange Affair?



A Dothan-based news Web site, one with a substantial readership, apparently has been hoodwinked regarding my reporting on the extramarital affair between Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and his former campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison.

Rickey Stokes, editor of RickeyStokesNews.com (RSN), reports in a post dated August 17 that our posts at Legal Schnauzer on the Strange/Garrison affair are "highly questionable." Stokes says he reached that conclusion after conversations on Saturday afternoon with two sources, one of which Stokes "would trust with my life in his hands."


The timing of the Stokes report is curious, coming one day after I received a letter from Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, claiming my reports were false and defamatory and threatening a lawsuit on Garrison's behalf. It becomes even more curious when you consider that Bill Baxley is from Dothan, and his brother (Wade Baxley) and nephew (Hamp Baxley) are lawyers with the Dothan firm of Ramsey Baxley & McDougle.  For good measure, Hamp Baxley is Dothan city commissioner for District 6.


The Baxley family clearly is influential in Dothan, and its members are quite capable of grabbing Rickey Stokes' attention. RSN takes pains to mention that its two sources for the August 17 post are "not related to each other." But that doesn't mean that at least one of them isn't related to Bill Baxley. 


In fact, we would pretty much bet the ranch--if we owned one--that one of Rickey Stokes' sources is related to Bill Baxley. We further would bet that Stokes' source did not reveal to the newsman that Bill Baxley represents Jessica Garrison and had sent me a threatening letter just one day earlier.


Did the source of RSN's post reveal that he, as someone likely related to Bill Baxley, had a vested interest in trying to undermine my reporting? My guess is that the answer is no. 


Sadly, that means Rickey Stokes and his readers probably have been the victims of a con job. Who might have participated in the con job? Well, let's look to an August 15 RSN post about Wade Baxley's appointment as a special master in the ongoing forfeiture case involving the seizure of cash and electronic-bingo equipment at Center Stage Alabama in Houston County. The seizure, of course, was conducted by the office of . . . Luther Strange.


Stokes notes that Judge Mike Conaway has appointed Wade Baxley to count money and help resolve a dispute about the amount seized at Center Stage. From the RSN report:



Judge Conaway wants the money counted. That is what Dothan Attorney Wade Baxley is under order to do. He is to travel to Montgomery Alabama and count the money. Baxley is the brother of former Attorney General Bill Baxley. He is one of the senior attorneys who practices in Dothan and highly respected.

Let's follow the trail here: In an August 15 report, Rickey Stokes describes Wade Baxley as "highly respected." In an August 17 post, Rickey Stokes describes one of his sources, claiming my reporting on the Strange/Garrison affair is "questionable," as someone "I would trust with my life in his hands."

Could that be one and the same person? I will leave that for individual readers to decide. 


While Rickey Stokes questions our reporting, one of the most experienced and respected journalists in the state apparently has no such concerns. Bob Martin cites our reports in writing about the Strange/Garrison affair in the current issue of the Montgomery Independent.

To be sure, the Stokes post of August 17 is a curious piece of work. The author can't seem to decide how to characterize my reporting on the Strange/Garrison affair. Let's consider some of the phrases he uses. (I am quoting them here verbatim, with no editing for grammar or spelling; first, it should be noted that Stokes identifies me as "Robert" Shuler.)


* "The articles in the Legal Schnauzer we have come to learn are very questionable as to the truthfulness and accuracy.
* " . . . there is no evidence what so ever that the article in the Legal Schnauzer was anything other than questionable. No evidence any truth to the allegations."
* " . . . my research and conversations, appear that Jessica Medeiros Garrison is a victim of someone wanting to use her to discredit Luther Strange."
* "Never do you have to use a tactic like that to discredit a politician. They do it enough themselves without involving people on something that all evidence appears to be as false and untrue."
* "I do not know Jessica Medeiros Garrison and if I have ever met or spoke with her, I do not know it. . . . She worked in the Strange campaign. And from what I have learned as I have spoke to people who do know her, she is a hard worker that is aggressive and attempts to succeed at what she takes on. . . . When the evidence points otherwise, it is unfair to her, her son and family or Luther Strange, and Luther Strange’s wife and family, to make up something that is not true."

Stokes concludes with this pearl:


The truth is the truth, and there is no reason or need to lie about the truth.

If someone can figure out what that means, don't hesitate to clue me in.

Notice that Stokes goes from describing my reports as "questionable," to saying they are supported by "no evidence," to labeling them as "false and untrue," to asserting that it is "unfair" for me to "make up something that is not true."

Why are we to trust what Rickey Stokes tells us? Because someone Stokes would trust "with my life in his hands" told him. What information did this person impart to convince Stokes my reporting is "false and untrue" (as opposed to being just "false" or just "untrue)? Stokes doesn't tell us.

Is the source connected to Bill Baxley, the lawyer who sent me a threatening letter on behalf of Jessica Garrison? Stokes doesn't tell us that, either. (Update: A source tells Legal Schnauzer that one of Stokes' sources, in fact, was Bill Baxley.)

I appreciate the fact that Rickey Stokes appears to be a hard-working guy who has built a nice audience for  his Web site. But methinks he, and his readers, have been conned on this one.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Photograph Of Lee Garrison Wearing A Penis Nose Shows Up In Time To Enliven Tuscaloosa Elections


Lee Garrison, candidate for Tuscaloosa
 school board , sports a penis nose
Municipal elections in Tuscaloosa will be August 27, and the competition has heated up with the unearthing of a photograph that features one candidate wearing what might be called a "penis proboscis."

We will call it the Penis Nose Scandal, and it coincides with another scandal that we have been covering for about a month here at Legal Schnauzer.


The man wearing the penis nose is Lee Garrison, the ex husband of Republican attorney and political operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison. Thanks to her long-running extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, Jessica Garrison has become the focus of about a half dozen posts here, with quite a few more to come.


Lee Garrison gave up a seat on the Tuscaloosa City Council to run for chair of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education. He is opposed by Denise Hills, and while the elections are nonpartisan, Garrison has roots in the Republican Party and is part of what might be called a corporate slate of conservative candidates.


Critics say powerful pro-business entities are trying to take over the board and give it a "Chamber of Commerce" lookThe corporate candidates, Lee Garrison included, have benefited from the support of Educate Tuscaloosa PAC, which is chaired by Mike Echols and claims the present board has failed to act in a responsible fashion. Echols, a Tuscaloosa accountant, is listed as an employee of Franklin Resources Group, a Montgomery PR and lobbying firm. He has served as campaign treasurer for Governor Robert Bentley and shares a post-office box with the Red Elephant Clubs of Alabama, a powerful group of Crimson Tide football backers that includes UA trustee Paul Bryant Jr.

An infusion of corporate cash has helped inject the municipal races with an unusually combative tone.  It even has sparked the creation of The Franklin Stove Blog (FSB), which can be found at ttowntruthseeker.com.


The blog's views appear to run counter to those of the corporate-backed candidates. A post dated August 18 is titled "Cash Soaked Election Covered In The News." The author of FSB says a win for the corporate candidates would be a victory for The Machine, the shadowy group that has dominated student politics at UA for decades.

Where does the Penis Nose Scandal fit into all of this? Well, we aren't sure, but the photo came to our attention a few days ago. I sent an e-mail to Lee Garrison, seeking comment, and he confirmed that it was him and was taken at a Halloween party in 2003. He served on the Tuscaloosa City Council at the time.

Here is the message I sent to Garrison via e-mail:



Lee:

I understand there is a photograph of you wearing what might be described as a "penis mask." I further understand the photograph was taken somewhere around 2003, at a Mardi Gras party in Tuscaloosa, and you were a member of the Tuscaloosa City Council at the time.
Given that you are running for Tuscaloosa School Board, and Jessica Garrison's affair with Luther Strange has become a statewide story, I am investigating the photo matter.
Therefore, I would like to give you an opportunity to comment about the photograph and its possible implications regarding your suitability for a spot on the School Board.
If you wish to comment, please do so by noon on Wed. (Aug. 21).

Thank you,

Roger Shuler


Here is Lee Garrison's response:



That was a picture from a Halloween Party 10 years ago.

What does the Penis Nose Scandal say about Lee Garrison's qualifications to serve as chair of the school board in a major Alabama city. We will let readers--and Tuscaloosa voters--decide for themselves.


Perhaps it points to some unflattering assertions that Jessica Garrison raised in the couple's custody case. Here is a sample of claims made against Lee Garrison and his current wife. (The full document can be viewed at the end of this post.)


The father has repeatedly exhibited a willingness to forfeit time with his son to pursue recreational and social activities that often involve excessive drinking and late nights. He also admittedly has had a gambling problem and takes controlled medications for which he has no prescription or medical need. The father also has a bad temper and a consistent tendency to rage, often in the presence of the child. Moreover, the father and his wife are cigarette smokers and have pets, both of which contribute to the child's ongoing allergies.

For now, the Penis Nose Scandal has helped enliven a contest that already was plenty lively.



Jessica Medeiros Garrison Hires Attorney Bill Baxley To Seek Retraction Regarding Luther Strange Affair


Jessica Medeiros Garrison
and Luther Strange
Republican lawyer and political operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison is demanding a retraction of certain posts I have written about her extramarital affair with Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

A demand letter from Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, dated August 16, 2013, claims posts here at Legal Schnauzer about the Garrison/Strange affair are false and defamatory. (See copy of the demand letter at the end of this post.) I responded with an e-mail to Baxley, stating that the posts in question are neither false nor defamatory, and they will not be retracted.


Baxley does not specifically threaten a lawsuit, but that appears to be the point of the letter. He closes with this:



There is not a grain of truth to warrant the horrible defamation published by you regarding our client. Each has no factual basis. Your outrageous, despicable conduct will be addressed in another forum: the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama.

It's ironic that Baxley's letter emphasizes his concern about my reporting on Jessica Garrison's extramarital affair with Luther Strange when substantial evidence suggests he actually is concerned about something else. In fact, I suspect Baxley is concerned about one of two other stories that he has reason to know I am working on--and one of those stories has nothing to do with Jessica Garrison. (We will address this in a series of upcoming posts.)


In his letter, Baxley cites six posts about the Garrison/Strange affair--from July 17 to August 13, 2013--and claims they include material that is false and defamatory. States Baxley:



Our client has not "engaged in a long-running extramarital affair" with Luther Strange, has not engaged in sexual relations with Luther Strange. . . . We hereby demand retraction of these charges in the same medium of publication as these charges were originally promulgated and in a prominent position therein, and demand public retraction of these charges and matters published in as prominent and public a place or manner as the charges or matter published occupied, and demand a full and fair retraction of such charges or matters.

Baxley then turns to various reader statements about Garrison that have been published in the comment section at Legal Schnauzer. Baxley seems to hint that I am responsible for these statements when he says, "Your blog, Legal Schnauzer, states: 'Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.'"


After highlighting about nine comments that he finds objectionable, Baxley states as follows:



Our client is not a whore, has no addiction to strangers, has no mental disorder, has had no sexual relationship with Luther Strange, has not allowed herself to be used sexually to advance herself in Alabama or the Republican Party, and has engaged in no financial arrangements for which anyone should be indicted. . . . We hereby demand retraction of these charges in the same medium of publication as these charges were originally promulgated and . . . 

By the way, Montgomery Independent Editor and Publisher Bob Martin, one of the most experienced and respected journalists in the state, apparently does not believe my reporting on Luther Strange and Jessica Garrison is false. He cites my reports at his column in the paper's current edition.

Will Bill Baxley's bullying tactics be successful? No, they will not. Are they actually driven by concern about Jessica Garrison's affair with Luther Strange? I strongly suspect they are not, in part, because Bill Baxley is a well-connected fellow, and he likely knows my reporting on the affair is true.


So what is this really all about? We invite you to stay tuned.