Leaderboard 728 X 90

Monday, June 26, 2017

Megan Rondini's suicide, in the wake of alleged rape by a member of Tuscaloosa's wealthy Bunn family, shines bright light on Alabama's insular and toxic culture


Megan Rondini
(From smudailycampus.com)
The University of Alabama and the state's mainstream media reacted belatedly over the weekend to a story about a former UA student who killed herself after reporting that a member of an influential Tuscaloosa family had raped her -- only to see the city's "justice apparatus" react with a mixture of indifference and incompetence.

Megan Rondini's story had largely been ignored or covered up in Alabama for more than a year. But that changed last Thursday when BuzzFeed News broke a stunning story, "How Accusing a Powerful Man of Rape Drove A College Student to Suicide." Here is the sub-title to reporter Katie J.M. Baker's story: "When an Alabama college student told the police she was sexually assaulted, she did everything she thought she was supposed to do. She ended up killing herself."

Did that get your attention? It certainly got the attention of BuzzFeed readers. As of last night, the article had almost 1.9 million views in less than four days.

Why has the story generated a mixture of sympathy, disbelief, disgust, and outrage? Maybe it's because Rondini had leveled rape allegations against one of Tuscaloosa's elites -- T.J. "Sweet Tea" Bunn Jr., part of the family behind ST Bunn Construction, which works on projects statewide and claims to have paved every street in Tuscaloosa. Sonny and Terry Bunn, the brothers who currently run the company, were major donors to former Gov. Robert "Luv Guv" Bentley, and Terry ("Sweet T's" father) served on the Bentley transition team. The Bunns are about as entrenched in Tuscaloosa culture as you can get. Reports BuzzFeed, about Terry Bunn:

He’s also listed on rosters for the secretive “President’s Cabinet” at UA, an “invitation-only” alumni group that advises the president of the university. ST Bunn Construction says it helped build Tuscaloosa’s Crimson Tide practice field, and the brothers belong to the booster foundation that paid for renowned UA football coach Nick Saban’s $3.1 million home. Flight records show the Bunn's private jet often touched down near Crimson Tide away games last fall.

The booster group in question is the Crimson Tide Foundation, founded and chaired by Paul Bryant Jr., son of the late Hall of Fame coach, Paul "Bear" Bryant. ST Bunn Construction is listed as part of the Crimson Alliance, for donors who have given from $100,000 to $499,999 to UA athletics. The foundation is closely aligned with Bryant Bank, which Bryant Jr. founded. In 2004, the Crimson Tide Foundation reported $34 million in revenue, but since has stopped reporting to the IRS in public documents.

When Megan Rondini had a sexual encounter in July 2015 at T.J. Bunn's mansion -- Bunn claims the sex was consensual -- she unknowingly walked into a swamp of big money, white privilege, secrecy, and entitlement. The BuzzFeed article suggests that the Tuscaloosa Sheriff's Office made only a half-heart attempt to pursue Rondini's claim. Even a therapist at the University of Alabama said she could not help because she knew the Bunn family.

Since the BuzzFeed story broke, multiple news outlets have followed in recent days with accounts that portray Tuscaloosa as a dysfunctional college town where one is not supposed to report the misconduct of white elites. Here are examples:

* "A town comes together to protect man accused of sexual assault and his accuser commits suicide," Daily Kos, 6/22/17;

* "Alabama rape victim who killed herself was ‘failed by people meant to protect her’, says campus sexual assault campaigner," The Tab, 6/22/17

* "Alabama rape victim committed suicide after being ‘bullied’ by police protecting wealthy alleged attacker," Raw Story, 6/24/17.

The story went international over the weekend with  this report:

* "Parents of University of Alabama honors student, 20, reveal she was driven to suicide after accusing son of local influential family of rape," UK Daily Mail, 6/24/17.

From the Daily Mail report:
Under Alabama's rape law, victims must prove they 'earnestly' resisted their attackers, and the investigator who interviewed Megan, Adam Jones, decided that she hadn't done so against Bunn.

According to him, she hadn't 'kicked him or hit him,' so the investigator would conclude that no rape occurred.

Extensive news coverage apparently was enough to awaken the University of Alabama and the state's mainstream press from their slumber.

Bunn Construction
(From stbunn.com)
UA released a statement on Saturday, which proved mostly to be an exercise in ass covering. The statement reads in part:

"The University of Alabama has been deeply saddened by the death of Megan Rondini, and we continue to offer our sympathy to her friends and family.

Information published by news outlets this week has unfortunately ignored some significant facts. When Megan went to the hospital, a University advocate met her at the hospital to provide support and stayed with her throughout the examination process. Megan also received information from University representatives regarding services available to her on campus, including counseling through the University's Women and Gender Resource Center. When she sought counseling and her first therapist identified a potential conflict as defined by her professional obligations, Megan was immediately introduced to another therapist, who provided care and support. Additionally, the UA Title IX Office was in contact with Megan, including offering academic accommodations and helping to streamline her withdrawal when Megan elected to return to Texas. Because the reported incident occurred off-campus, the University's police department was not involved in the formal criminal investigation.

We hope these recent news accounts, which do not tell the full story, will not discourage others from reporting sexual assault or seeking help and support."

The Tuscaloosa News and al.com, both of which apparently were clueless about the story until BuzzFeed arrived on the scene, published stories on Saturday. (See here and here.) The al.com story states the Rondini family has hired Birmingham attorney Leroy Maxwell, and litigation is planned:

Her parents have hired Birmingham lawyer Leroy Maxwell Jr. of the Maxwell Firm to represent them in filing a federal Title IX complaint against the university, and with possibly other complaints.

Maxwell told AL.com the complaint will be filed by the end of June.

"Megan was loved by everyone who came in contact with her. Her loss is everyone's loss. Title IX, the University of Alabama, the Tuscaloosa Sheriff's department and the overall judicial system in Tuscaloosa let her down on every level. Through litigation our firm is committed to doing everything in our power to shine a light on Tuscaloosa's systemic problem with sexual assault," he said.

It appears Tuscaloosa's toxic culture helped deny Megan Rondini justice in life. Will her family receive some measure of justice now that she is gone?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

After 17 years of courtroom frustration and disappointment, Carol finally gets a victory she richly deserves, as Missouri trespass count is dismissed


Margaret Holden Palmietto
After 17 years of legal battles and being cheated at almost every turn, Carol and I experienced a first yesterday at the Greene County Courthouse in Springfield, Missouri. We had filed a motion showing that part of the opposing party's case had no basis in fact or law and was due to be dismissed. And -- gasp! -- the judge agreed, essentially saying, "That count is garbage, and it's outta here!"

We're talking about the trespass count in State of Missouri v. Carol T. Shuler (No. 1631-CR07731 at case.net). It wasn't a monumental legal victory, paling in comparison to, say, Brown v. Board of Education. And it was not a complicated or wide-ranging issue. The trespass count was the only matter on the table yesterday, and as we showed in a post on Monday, it was clear (under the law) how it had to be decided. In fact, we never saw any written opposition from the State on our Motion to Dismiss Count II. (The motion is embedded at the end of this post.)

But we've been in that position many times before. Time and again, we've had motions that had to be granted -- even motions with no opposition from the other side -- only to have judges (and yes, they were corrupt judges; there is no other way to put it) rule against us. It's happened in Alabama; it's happened in Missouri. It's happened in state court; it's happened in federal court. It's happened with white judges and black judges -- Republicans (mostly) and Democrats.

But Judge Margaret Holden Palmietto did not buy any of the State's BS yesterday -- and it offered up plenty. She was calm and reasoned and treated prosecutor Nicholas Jain with more tact than he deserved. But the judge, after listening to argument back and forth for about 10 minutes, essentially said, "Mrs. Shuler, you are right. This count is due to be dismissed."

I should point out that this was Carol's victory. Technically, I'm not a party to the case, but I very much was involved in all the events leading to the criminal charges against Carol. I saw every relevant event that happened, from a few feet away, and I know the charging documents are packed with lies from cops. But yesterday was a time for me to play bystander. I sat near the back of the courtroom, and in a facility with horrible acoustics, struggled to hear what was being said. You might say I was a highly engaged spectator -- and blogger/journalist.

But it was Carol's day, and her victory, and I was immensely proud of her. She didn't really do much, but sometimes, that's the best thing a client can do in a courtroom -- if you have a trustworthy attorney, sit back and let them (to borrow a phrase from Steve Winwood) "roll with it." That's what Carol did, and Public Defender Patty Poe did a cracker-jack job on Carol's behalf.

Without sounding like a suck-up (I hope), I also have to give props to Judge Palmietto. She is the first judge I've seen in 17 years who shows signs of having the integrity and intelligence to decide a case correctly -- and stand up to powerful and corrupt forces on the other side. I continue to brace myself for the possibility that she might turn in the other direction, but for now, I think she rocks.

Poe's primary work came in preparing a motion that really could not be beaten. The key point was that the Probable Cause Statement against Carol said not one word about trespass; it presented zero evidence to support the count, so it had to be dropped. The facts and the law were stacked in our favor. But that doesn't mean the morning didn't feature some drama -- or black comedy, depending on your viewpoint.

A trip to the courthouse would not be complete without some ugliness and Nicholas Jain provided it yesterday. Prosecutors apparently feel it is their duty to argue the slightest motion, even though they have no valid legal or factual argument to stand on. Jain tried to pull one out of his ass anyway, and in the process, made himself look like an utter boob. He also confirmed what many citizens think about prosecutors -- that they only care about winning and have zero interest in justice.

Based on what I could hear, and what Carol reported to me later, here are some of the "arguments" Jain appeared to make yesterday:

(1) Hey, let's change the charging documents!

Jain's position: We need to schedule a hearing for this afternoon, so I can prepare an amended Probable Cause Statement and Misdemeanor Information, and we can argue them then.

Palmietto's position: Bub, these alleged offenses took place in September 2015, and the one-year statute of limitation ran out in September 2016. It's now June 2017, nine months after time for any amendment, and you decide your charging documents need to be changed? Not gonna happen. Next.

(2) But . . . but . . . she pushed on the door

Jain's position: Mrs. Shuler pushed against the door when officers tried to enter the apartment. This must prove something, but I have no idea what that might be.

Palmietto's position: If you don't know what argument you are trying to make, I can't help you. What does the door have to do with trespass? Next.

(3) But . . . but . . . she filed a notice of appeal on the eviction

Jain's position: Mr. and Mrs. Shuler filed a notice of appeal, so that means Mrs. Shuler knew about the eviction.

Palmietto's position (best I can tell): And that's supposed to mean she "knowingly" trespassed? Are you on acid? The filing of a notice of appeal means the Shulers believed the trial court got the eviction ruling wrong. They went to the trouble and expense of filing a notice of appeal, and they did it in a timely fashion that, by law, put a stay on the eviction. That tells me that Mrs. Shuler believed she was lawfully at the apartment, that she did NOT knowingly trespass. Again, are you on acid?

Carol Tovich Shuler
Carol and I have "won" a lawsuit before. The "INP and DIS" case my brother, Paul, filed -- essentially seeking to have us declared wards of the state -- wound up in our favor. But it was dismissed on Paul's own motion. Unless I'm forgetting something, yesterday was the first time a judge looked at a significant motion, heard both sides of the argument, and ruled correctly, in our favor.

When Carol and I walked out of the courthouse and into the bright sunshine -- and oppressive Missouri heat -- we looked at each other as if to say, "How do you react when you win in court? Are we supposed to high five?"

To be sure, we are not out of the woods on this criminal matter. Both counts against Carol are misdemeanors, but the remaining count -- "assault" on a law enforcement officer -- is the more significant of the two. Based on the charging documents, the "assault" count is every bit as weak as the trespass count was. In fact, it should be dismissed on almost a half dozen grounds -- and it's been established that it's too late for the prosecution to amend its flawed documents. But will Palmietto continue to show the kind of integrity and level head she displayed yesterday? We hope so, but one never knows if the law actually is going to rule the day in a courtroom.

The next hearing in Carol's case is set for July 19, and we have our first extended meeting with Patty Poe today. We don't know what's around the next corner, but for now, we have one victory in our pocket -- and that's a new. and most welcome, feeling.

So, how did we celebrate? Well, Carol has grown fond of the cupcakes at Price Cutter supermarkets here in fashionable Springfield, so we stopped and got a half dozen of those. I got a cup of frozen chocolate yogurt (with sprinkles!) at a local establishment. We were able to enjoy those treats only because of loyal readers and supporters who have helped keep us afloat.

We never would have made it to yesterday's victory without the help of others. I guess I have a decent vocabulary, but I don't have the words to adequately express my thanks to some very special people who have saved us. Perhaps there will be more victories in the future -- and justice, finally, will prevail.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Newly discovered document proves that Missouri landlord Trent Cowherd, and his rogue lawyer Craig Lowther, conducted an unlawful eviction against us


Trent and Sharon Cowherd
A newly discovered document proves that Missouri landlord Trent Cowherd and his thuggish lawyer, Craig Lowther, conducted an unlawful eviction against us -- and they did it intentionally or via raging ignorance and incompetence.

We're talking about the Rent-and-Possession (R and P) Petition designed to have Carol and me removed as tenants from property at 4070 S. Fort Ave. in Springfield, Missouri. The petition has been in the case record since August 5, 2015, the day it was filed. But it is "newly discovered" in the sense that we had never seen it until recently -- and we never were served with it.

I had noticed an item titled "Petition" in the court file, but I assumed it was a copy of an R and P form that had been attached to our door in various forms during the eviction proceeding. On a recent visit to the Greene County Courthouse, I decided to print out the petition -- and, lo and behold -- it was not the form; it was a document, like a complaint in a lawsuit, upon which mine eyes had never feasted.  We could see immediately that it was most informative. What does it tell us?

(1) It confirms what we already knew: That Cowherd violated Missouri law by instituting eviction proceedings long before our rent was late by at least one month;

(2) It confirms that we never were lawfully served, as I had argued in our Counterclaim and Motion to Quash Execution, and that means the court had no jurisdiction over my wife, Carol, and me.

(3) The notion that Carol unlawfully was on the premises -- even though I told the Cowherd representative on the day I signed the lease that my wife was in Birmingham gathering our belongings and would be joining me in Missouri -- apparently originated with Cowherd, perhaps via a member (or members) of my family. The Cowherd rep OK'd Carol's presence in the apartment but did not write her name down as a tenant; the rep filled out the Rental Agreement and only allowed me to sign my name and fill in information about our pets. There is evidence in the lease that I told Cowherd about all the living beings that would be living in the apartment, and they approved them. But the eviction petition claims Carol was on the premises unlawfully -- and that is curious because Carol now faces a trespass charge in the bogus criminal case brought by the Greene County Sheriff's Office and Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson.

Documents in the criminal case provide zero information about the trespass count -- and it is due to be dismissed when Carol returns to court today -- and we've never had a clue about what "facts" it is based. That changed when we discovered Cowherd's Petition.

(Note: The Petition, Counterclaim, Motion to Quash, and Rental Agreement are embedded at the end of this post.)

Missouri law is clear that eviction proceedings cannot begin until a tenant's rent is late by at least one month. Here are the words straight from RSMo 535.120, which apparently has existed in one form or another since at least 1909. Why would Cowherd and Lowther be unaware of tenant-landlord law that has been around for more than 100 years? Hard to say. Here's how the law currently reads:

Whenever one month's rent or more is in arrear from a tenant, the landlord, if he has a subsisting right by law to reenter for the nonpayment of such rent, may bring an action to recover the possession of the demised premises.

That language seems pretty straightforward; a tenant is not a candidate for eviction proceedings until he is behind on rent by at least one month. But Cowherd and Lowther can't figure it out? Consider this language from the petition that Lowther filed on Cowherd's behalf:

4. That the Defendants are in arrears and there is now due unpaid rent in the amount of Seven Hundred Ninety Five Dollars and No Cents ($795.00).

5. Demand has been made for the rent, but has not been paid to the Plaintiff.

6. That said Lease Agreement signed by the Defendants provided for late charges and reasonable attorney fees should the employment of an attorney be necessary in order to collect the monies owed Plaintiff.

Let's address a few problems that arise from this language in Cowherd's petition:

(A) Our July rent had been paid, and the petition is dated August 5, 2015. So we're talking about the August rent here -- and on its face -- the petition shows that rent is late by five days. Cowherd makes no mention of the RSMo 535.120 requirement that rent be late by at least one month. He makes no mention that our rent was not even close to being late by one month. He makes no mention that he had zero grounds to institute eviction proceedings against us.

Craig Lowther
(B) Cowherd never made demand for rent. Instead, the company placed a Notice to Vacate on our door, giving no reason as to why we were to leave. When I called the office to inquire about the notice, I was told it was because my mother (Gondy Shuler) wanted off the lease as co-signer, and we had not qualified on our own. I noted that no one from Cowherd had informed us that we were to qualify on our own. And when I asked where such a provision was in the lease, the Cowherd rep could not answer and simply changed her tune to say, "I don't have to renew a lease with you, and we are deciding not to renew the lease." I taped the phone conversation and entered it into the court record, and when pressed under oath, a Cowherd rep admitted there was no such provision in the lease. This was clear evidence of breach of contract, which was part of our counterclaim that never got heard.

(C) The Lease Agreement does allow for late charges, but Cowherd never sought late charges because it never demanded the August rent at all. It simply told us to leave, for reasons not found in the lease. More importantly, late fees are proper under the lease, but attempted eviction is not proper under state law until rent is late by at least one month.

As for lack of unlawful service, we addressed that in our Motion to Quash Execution:

The judgment in this case is void due to improper service. Plaintiff Trent Cowherd ("Cowherd") elected to use the posting-mailing form of service allowed in landlord-tenant cases under RSMo. 535.030(2). But the docket in this case shows the petition never was mailed to Shuler. Missouri courts have held that "proper service of process must be accomplished before a court can obtain jurisdiction over the person or property of defendant." Reisinger v. Reisinger 39 S.W. 3d 80 (Mo. App. E.D., 2001). Further, Missouri courts have held: "[A] personal judgment rendered by a court without personal jurisdiction over a defendant is void and may be attacked collaterally." Crouch v. Crouch, 641 S.W. 2d 86 (Mo., 1982). Shuler raised the defenses of lack of personal jurisdiction and insufficiency of service of process in his answer, before ever appearing in court. That means the waiver provisions of Rule 55.27(g)(1)(B) were not triggered, contrary to the ruling of the trial court on this issue." A defending party who wishes to raise defenses of lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficiency of process, or insufficiency of service of process must do so either in a pre-answer motion or in the party's answer." Worley v. Worley, 19 S.W. 3d 127 (Mo., 2000).

The Notice of Eviction in the instant case also was improperly served. Missouri law holds, "The Missouri Eviction Notice must be served either personally on the tenant or by leaving it with a person at least 15 years of age who lives on the property. If no one is present, the server may post the demand and complete a sworn affidavit attesting to service." According to the docket in this case, no sworn affidavit attesting to service of the eviction notice is on file. That means service is unlawful, and said eviction notice is due to be quashed.

The service problems in our eviction case, which mean the judgment was void, only grew when we discovered Cowherd's R and P Petition in the court file about 10 days ago. We never were served with that either, had never seen it until we happened to stumble upon it during a courthouse visit on other matters.

Bottom line? We were kicked out of our home, had most of our physical possessions stolen by Cowherd's eviction crew, Carol had her arm broken, and I had an assault weapon pointed at my head . . . all because of a court judgment that was void on multiple grounds.

That sounds pretty grim, but we have discovered a sliver of light. The claim that Carol was unlawfully on the premises . . . well, there is some comedy involved in that. We will explain in an upcoming post.











Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Thomas T. Lamberth Jr., Compass banker who was married to eating-disorders and sex-addiction therapist, appears at affairs site that failed to protect client data


Tom Lamberth Jr.
(From bbvacompass.com)
A vice president and mortgage-banking officer at a major Birmingham bank appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Web site, according to publicly available documents.

Thomas T. Lamberth Jr., a 2003 Auburn University graduate, has worked at BBVA Compass Bank since 2007. He is based at Compass' Valleydale Road location and has expertise in construction and renovation financing, conventional and jumbo loans, first-time home buyer loans, and government loans.

Based on published reports, it appears Lamberth recently was divorced. He was married to Amber Parris Lamberth, a therapist specializing in eating disorders and sex addiction at The Highlands Treatment Center. She has a background in social work, and this is from her 2013 bio at The Highlands:

Amber Lamberth is a primary therapist at the Highlands Treatment Center, a trusted Castlewood affiliate in Birmingham, AL. Amber has worked with clients with eating disorders for the past five years in various levels of care. Amber shared that “When I first started in this field after graduate school, I thought this is a population that I am passionate about working with, but I wasn’t sure if this was the perfect fit for me. I am in recovery from an eating disorder, and I remember that very dark time in my life. I wanted to help others and felt I could relate to their journey. What I have discovered over the last five years is that this is what I am supposed to do with my life, this is my purpose, and I always want to work with clients with eating disorders.” 
Amber shared the she believes that “full and lasting recovery is possible for my clients. Every client that I treat is completely unique. What I love about working with these clients, and also what is most challenging about working with these clients, is that there is no guidebook. No one magic plan for all clients. Each person is unique and requires a unique approach.” 

Amber Parris
(From facebook.com)
 Amber is proud of the team that has been assembled at The Highlands Treatment Center. “I love the people that I work with. We worked together at another treatment center and had great relationships, so coming to work each day to collaborate with some of my best friends is an amazing experience.”
Amber is also excited to pursue her current area of interest which is the intersection of eating disorders and sexual addiction. She is a candidate for the Certified Sex Addiction Therapist designation and has a particular interest in issues of intimacy and sexual addiction in eating disorders. 
Amber received her Master’s Degree with Honors from the University of Alabama. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a member of the National Association of Social Workers. Amber previously worked at a residential and partial hospitalization eating disorder treatment facility in the state of Alabama. She also has training and experience in treating severe mental illness at both the inpatient and outpatient levels of care. In addition to her specialization in eating disorders, Amber has additional training in symptoms of self-harm, suicidality, trauma, and sexual addiction. She has had specialized training and experience in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Prolonged Exposure for PTSD. Amber is committed to helping clients rediscover their sense of self and reconnect with their values and purpose to drive them towards recovery.

Amber Lamberth sounds like a first-class individual, who is trying to make a difference in the world. Her current bio at The Highlands lists her name as Amber Parris, as does her Facebook page. It appears the Lamberth marriage is no more.

Property records show the Lamberths have owned at least two properties in Birmingham, although it does not appear either was their primary residence. The most recent was at 5713 5TH TERRACE S BHAM AL 35212. It's possible Tom Lamberth is a house flipper, which might be an attractive past time for a mortgage banker.

Did Tom Lamberth's activities at Ashley Madison, or similar activities, contribute to the failure of his marriage? We sought to pose that question, and others, to him, but (so far) he has not responded to our queries.


Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(29) Shawn Baker, developer, Blackwater Resources, Birmingham (4/24/17)

(30) David Deusner, attorney/forensics, Control Risks, Birmingham/Washington, D.C. (4/26/17)

(31) David J. Harrison, attorney, Geneva, AL (6/8/17)

(32) Michael Mullis, managing partner, Kelley and Mullis, Birmingham (4/12/17)

(33) David Healy, attorney, Ozark, MO (6/15/17)

(34) Tom Layfield, executive director of ALRBA, Montgonery, AL (6/19/17)

My wife, Carol, returns to court on Wednesday, and at least one of two charges against her should be dismissed, leaving only the bogus "assault" claim


Carol Tovich Shuler
My wife, Carol, returns to court on Wednesday (6/21), and she will be armed with a document that should prompt dismissal of at least half of the charges against her.

Public Defender Patty Poe has filed a Motion to Dismiss Count II, which essentially states that the trespass charge against Carol is not supported by facts sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to believe the offense occurred. (The Motion to Dismiss Count II can be viewed by clicking on the link above; also, it is embedded at the end of this post.)

(Note: Carol's next court appearance originally was set for June 14, but a continuance was granted, pushing it back one week.)

If the trespass charge in Count II is dismissed, that will leave only Count I -- the alleged misdemeanor charge of "assault on a law enforcement officer." There are no facts to support that charge either, as Carol pointed out in her own Motion to Dismiss before Ms. Poe came on board, But for now, we are focusing on getting the trespass charge out of the way.

One reason is that we've met with Ms. Poe for only about 10 minutes, and she likely needs more information from us about the unlawful eviction that led to a deputy breaking Carol's arm, and bogus charges being filed against her. Plus, Ms. Poe has explained that the system moves slowly -- it takes quite a while for documents to flow from the court to the Public Defender's office, for example -- so we are trying to be patient. (For the record, Carol is better at this patience thing than I am.)

As for the Motion to Dismiss the trespass charge, Ms. Poe points out that Missouri law requires a Misdemeanor Information (MI) be supported by a Probable Cause (PC) Statement. The PC Statement, by law, must "state facts that support a finding of probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the accused committed it."

The charging documents against Carol, taken together, fall way short of their burden on the trespass count. Ms. Poe states that Missouri law "provides that the offense of trespass in the first degree requires that the defendant knowingly remained unlawfully in an inhabitable structure."

Did the prosecution meet that burden? Not even close. Writes Ms. Poe:

The statement of probable cause filed herein fails to state facts sufficient to support a finding of probable cause to believe that this offense occurred, in that nowhere in the probable cause statement does it allege defendant remained in an inhabitable structure unlawfully and knowingly.

In fact, the PC Statement does not say a word about trespass, meaning there are zero facts to support the charge. What does that mean? Ms. Poe spells it out:

As such, the Misdemeanor Information filed herein is insufficient to confer personal jurisdiction over Defendant and, therefore, all proceedings subsequent to the filing of the Misdemeanor Information herein are void and of no force and effect.

I like the way that sounds, and the same could be said regarding the "assault on a law enforcement officer" charge in Count I. But for now, I will try my best to remain patient and let Count I play out on another day. There is no question that Ms. Poe is correct on the facts and the law regarding Count II, and at a minimum, Carol should leave the courthouse tomorrow with half of the charges against her dismissed.







Monday, June 19, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Tom Layfield, executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association, appears at extramarital-affairs Web site


Tom Layfield
(From albra.org)
The executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association (ALRBA) appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Web site.

Tom Layfield became head of ARBA in 2013, after serving as vice president of governmental affairs for the Alabama Bankers Association. Layfield clearly is strongly aligned with the corporate and political worlds in Alabama. From his bio at the ARBA Web site:

Tom Layfield, Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the Alabama Bankers Association, was named Executive Director of the Alabama Road Builders Association in August 2013, succeeding Billy Norrell.

“Bringing Tom into the road building family presents a tremendous opportunity for ARBA,” said 2013 ARBA President, Craig Fleming. “I would like to thank Chris Newell (Search Committee Chairman) and the rest of the committee for their tireless efforts during this transition. The committee came to a unanimous decision on this important choice. We had a strong list of candidates expressing interest in this position and are honored by their participation. In the end, Tom is the candidate who best fit our needs.”

Lauren Layfield
(From hatteam.com)
 “It is a real thrill to be named Executive Director of the Alabama Road Builders Association,” said Layfield. “I will do my best to serve the needs of the membership as Billy always did. It is an honor to join such an elite organization – one that is so well thought of throughout all of Alabama. I am greatly appreciative of the board for this opportunity and look forward to hitting the ground running.”

Layfield has more than 15 years of association management and governmental affairs experience. He and his wife Lauren live in Montgomery.

Lauren Layfield works at Sandra Nickel Realtors in Montgomery.  From her bio at the company's Web page:

If you are looking to buy high-end Montgomery area real estate or that perfect first home, contact Lauren Layfield. She is conscientious, respectful, smart, straightforward and a competitive buyer specialist.

Lauren, and her husband, Tom – who is executive director of the Alabama Road Builders Association, both were graduated from Auburn University. They have three Boykin Spaniel dogs, and spend their free time boating, reading, and relaxing on Lake Martin or at the Montgomery County Club. She enjoys teaching Pure Barre, playing tennis and traveling to visit family. Lauren is originally from Lexington, Kentucky, met Tom while working in Washington, DC, and they have lived in Midtown since 1996.

We sought comment from Tom Layfield regarding his activities at Ashley Madison, but he has not responded to our queries.

Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(29) Shawn Baker, developer, Blackwater Resources, Birmingham (4/24/17)

(30) David Deusner, attorney/forensics, Control Risks, Birmingham/Washington, D.C. (4/26/17)

(31) David J. Harrison, attorney, Geneva, AL (6/8/17)

(32) Michael Mullis, managing partner, Kelley and Mullis, Birmingham (4/12/17)

(33) David Healy, attorney, Ozark, MO (6/15/17)

Missouri officials trample Carol's Sixth Amendment rights, by denying her the opportunity to "confront her accuser" -- or to even know his or her name


(From legalcoffee.com)
How many ways can Missouri authorities violate one person's constitutional rights? In the case of my wife, Carol -- falsely charged with "assaulting a law enforcement officer" and trespass -- we've shown they violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. Carol has filed a motion to have the charges dismissed on Fourth Amendment grounds. (See document embedded at the end of this post.) But the constitutional violations hardly end there.

What about Carol's Sixth Amendment right to "confront her accusers in a criminal case," which is known as the Confrontation Clause. In essence, it holds that if someone accuses you of a crime, you have a right to know who that person is -- and you have a right to confront that person via cross-examination at trial. Historically, the Confrontation Clause has been considered fairly important in the U.S. justice system; it prevents an anonymous individual from accusing someone of a crime and then hiding from the consequences of making an accusation that might be false.

But that is exactly what is happening in Carol's case -- and it suggests that word of the Confrontation Clause, proposed to Congress in 1789, has not reached outposts such as Springfield, Missouri.

Charging documents in Carol's case suggest she allegedly trespassed and committed two acts of "assault" on law enforcement officers -- one by "barreling headfirst" into Officer Debi Wade, and one by pushing Officer Jeremy Lynn after he had burst through the door of our duplex apartment to begin an unlawful eviction. But the Probable Cause (PC) Statement and Misdemeanor Information (MI), taken together, tell a curious story. In fact, the two documents conflict wildly.

In the MI, Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson charges Carol with trespass and states evidence to support the charge will be in the PC Statement. Just one problem: The PC Statement says not one word about trespass. In other words, the charge has zero evidence to support it, and by law, must be dismissed. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

In the PC Statement, Officer Debi Wade claims Carol "barreled headfirst" into her, and that is laughably false. (I saw the interaction between Carol and Officer Wade from about 15 feet away.) But regardless of what I think (and know) about Wade's claim, PA Patterson doesn't think much of it either. He doesn't charge Carol with it, so that is out the window already.

That leaves only the allegation that Carol pushed Officer Jeremy Lynn, which also is laughably false. (I saw that interaction from about five feet away.) But problems with that charge go way beyond its falsity. Consider these words from Officer Wade's PC Statement:

Upon initial contact in the entryway of the residence, Roger's wife, Carol T. Shuler, physically assaulted Capt. Jeremy Lynn. I was not witness to that assault, however, I was advised that Carol first pushed the door from inside when Capt. Lynn attempted entry with the key, then got physical with him once inside the threshold and repeatedly pushed him.

Notice what is happening here: Wade admits she did not witness these events, but claims an unknown person -- someone who apparently has no name -- "advised" her of what happened. This amounts to what might be called "sub-hearsay." It likely would be inadmissible hearsay for someone with a name -- say, Officer Joe Jones -- to "advise" Wade of what happened. But this is worse than hearsay; as we noted in an earlier post, it's like being accused of a crime by a "ghost," someone from the spirit world who cannot be seen, heard, or identified by name.

On the surface, this notion is so absurd as to be almost comical. But it's serious business; Carol has been arrested and incarcerated twice -- and faces bogus criminal charges that could send her to jail for a year -- based on the word of a ghost. And it might be the most blatant violation of Sixth Amendment rights in the history of the United States.

Has Carol had an opportunity to "confront her accuser"? Hell, she doesn't even know his or her name.

Typically, the right to confront your accuser involves cross-examination at trial, and Carol's case has not reached that point. But Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), one of the best-known Sixth Amendment cases in modern history, makes it clear the Confrontation Clause goes beyond trial proceedings. From Crawford:

The text of the Confrontation Clause reflects this focus. It applies to "witnesses" against the accused — in other words, those who "bear testimony. . . . " An accuser who makes a formal statement to government officers bears testimony in a sense that a person who makes a casual remark to an acquaintance does not. The constitutional text, like the history underlying the common-law right of confrontation, thus reflects an especially acute concern with a specific type of out-of-court statement.

Various formulations of this core class of "testimonial" statements exist: "ex parte in-court testimony or its functional equivalent — that is, material such as affidavits, custodial examinations, prior testimony that the defendant was unable to cross-examine, or similar pretrial statements that declarants would reasonably expect to be used prosecutorially, . . . statements that were made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial, . . . " 
Statements taken by police officers in the course of interrogations are also testimonial under even a narrow standard. Police interrogations bear a striking resemblance to examinations by justices of the peace in England. The statements are not sworn testimony, but the absence of oath was not dispositive.

Let's review what happened in Carol's case, based on the standard set out in Crawford:

(1) Someone made a formal statement to a government officer, "bearing testimony" against Carol;

(2) It was in an affidavit, a form of ex parte testimony to which the Sixth Amendment applies;

(3) It reasonably is expected to be used "prosecutorially," at a later trial.

(4) It was a statement taken by a police officer in the course of interrogations.

The term "at a later trial" indicates the Confrontation Clause applies to pre-trial activities, including the filing of an affidavit, such as a PC Statement. For good measure, a Missouri case styled State v. Stewart (MO Ct. of App., 2009), borrows from Crawford to drive home the same point. From Stewart:

Finally, while "[t]he Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause provides that, '[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . .  to be confronted with the witnesses against him,'" Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 42 (2004), that safeguard applies only if the out-of-court statement was "testimonial" in nature. The Court in Crawford did not give a "comprehensive definition of 'testimonial'" but stated that "it applies at a minimum to prior testimony at a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, or at a former trial; and to police interrogations."

Bottom line: The Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause ensures that you cannot be accused of a crime by a "ghost." Your accuser must be identified, even in pre-trial documents, and that has not happened in Carol's case. It means she never should have been arrested (twice), incarcerated (twice), or subjected to any criminal proceedings.

It's had to imagine anyone's Sixth Amendment rights ever being battered in a more flagrant fashion. Judge Margaret Holdem Palmietto should have dismissed the case against Carol and issued sanctions against the cops and prosecutors responsible for it. That hasn't happened yet, but it had better happen soon. The law demands it.



 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Ozark, MO attorney David Healy appears on board of "pro life" pregnancy center and at extramarital-affairs Web site


David and Sarah Healey, with children
(From facebook.com)
An estate-planning attorney in the burgeoning town of Ozark, Missouri -- just minutes south of Springfield, in the southwest corner of the state -- appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Web site.

David Healy, based on images at his Facebook page, is quite the family guy. It's just that his family activities include having a paid account at Ashley Madison. And the hypocrisy does not stop there; he also serves on the board of a "pro life" pregnancy center.

Ozark sits in the heavily Republican Christian County, between Springfield and country-music mecca Branson. The town had fewer than 3,000 residents when I graduated from the University of Missouri in 1978. Now, it has an estimated population of almost 20,000, with new subdivisions sprouting in every direction.

Images at their Facebook pages show that David and Sarah Healy have two young children. Property records indicate they live in the Woodfield subdivision. David is a partner at the Appleby Healy law firm, with its office on the historic square in Ozark. Sarah is an administrative assistant at the firm. From David Healy's bio at the law firm Web site:

David graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 2003, after which time he served the citizens of the State of Missouri first as a law clerk for the Missouri Court of Appeals and then as an Assistant Greene County Prosecuting Attorney. After entering private practice with Ingold and Associates, LLC to focus on estate planning and probate and trust litigation, David later formed the law firm of Imhof and Healy with Daniel W. Imhof. When Mr. Imhof became a Greene County judge, David and his brother Douglas formed Healy and Healy in 2007, wherein David maintained a broad trial practice ranging from criminal defense at both state and federal trial courts and at the federal courts of appeals to civil litigation including personal injury matters, family and juvenile matters including contested adoption proceedings, and probate and trust litigation. David also performed a substantial amount of transactional work for a number of local businesses and estate planning for numerous southwest Missouri families during his time with Healy and Healy.

In January of 2014 David merged his practice with the practice of David N. Appleby forming the firm of Appleby Healy, Attorneys at Law, P.C. David continues his representation of local southwest Missouri families in a wide range of legal matters from criminal defense to commercial litigation while focusing his practice more on the estate planning needs of his clients.

According to the bio, Healy is active in the community:

David serves on the Board of Directors of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and is a member of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, Greene County Estate Planning Council, the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, the Christian County Bar Association, and the Missouri Bar. David also serves on the Board of Directors of the Springfield Pregnancy Care Center, is a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield, and is an active member of his church.

That last highlighted item is of particular interest. The Springfield Pregnancy Care Center (PCC) is a non-profit organization that provides pregnancy-related services to seven counties in Southwest Missouri and is funded by the contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations, and churches within the community. Here, from the "About" page on its Web site, are the PCC's services:

Services We Provide

* Pregnancy Testing Program

* Mentoring and Enrichment Programs

* Ultrasound Program

* Healthy Relationship Programs

* Healthy Pregnancy Classes

* Parents and the Law

* Fatherhood Program

* Community/Medical Referral

* Family Support Program

* Labor and Birth Courses

* Adoption Education

* Lactation Consulting

* Baby and Maternity Resources

* Smoke-free Babies

* Community Presentations 
* Choices Project

You will notice that abortion services are not provided. That's fine, of course, but it drives home two points: (1) Springfield PCC takes only a "pro life" approach, and it does not offer a full range of pregnancy-related services; (2) David Healy's presence on the board presents a heaping helping of hypocrisy.

The Finley River, near downtown Ozark, MO
(From elitephotoart.com)
It seems axiomatic -- to borrow a phrase that lawyers throw around -- that extramarital affairs are a significant cause of unwanted pregnancies. So how does David Healy come to sit on the board of a "pro life" organization -- one that acts as if abortion services do not exist -- while his Ashley Madison account suggests he has tried to engage in one of the very behaviors that drive women to seek abortions?

We sought to pose that question, and others, to Mr. Healy. But he has not responded to our queries.

This is Healy's bio from the PCC board members Web page:

David Healy has served on Pregnancy Care Center’s Board of Directors since 2013. Mr. Healy is a partner with Appleby Healy, Attorneys at Law, P.C., and attends Second Baptist Church. David is currently Vice President of the Board.


Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(29) Shawn Baker, developer, Blackwater Resources, Birmingham (4/24/17)

(30) David Deusner, attorney/forensics, Control Risks, Birmingham/Washington, D.C. (4/26/17)

(31) David J. Harrison, attorney, Geneva, AL (6/8/17)

(32) Michael Mullis, managing partner, Kelley and Mullis, Birmingham (4/12/17)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Federal judges Virginia Emerson Hopkins and R. David Proctor, supported by Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, turn out fraudulent opinions that befoul justice



Virginia Emerson Hopkins
"Frankly, I have had more than enough of judicial opinions that bear no relationship whatsoever to the cases that have been filed and argued before the judges. "I am talking about judicial opinions that falsify the facts of the cases that have been argued, judicial opinions that make disingenuous use or omission of material authorities, judicial opinions that cover up these things with no-publication and no-citation rules.”

 -- Monroe Freedman, founder of legal ethics


Why did U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins deny discovery that might have shown former Alabama attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor engaged in a scheme to investigate companies, solicit the same targets, and drop inquiries when the companies coughed up campaign contributions?

Why has R. David Proctor, Hopkins' colleague in the Northern District of Alabama, repeatedly ruled contrary to law in our "Jail Case" and "House Case," favoring defendants who are aligned with Sessions, Pryor, or both?

Public records suggest the answer to the two questions are the same: Both judges are bought and paid for by right-wing interests.

Here is a broader question, with a related, but slightly different, answer? Why have federal courts in Alabama turned into a toxic sewer, regularly churning out the kind of opinions that Monroe Freedman found abhorrent? Much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.

Sessions served in the U.S. Senate for 20 years before becoming Donald Trump's attorney general -- and a major figure in the KremlinGate scandal -- earlier this year. Sessions testified yesterday before the Senate Intelligence Committee and mostly stonewalled on questions about his conversations with Trump on the subject of Russia and its apparent interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Shelby is serving in his 30th year in the Senate. Together, Sessions and Shelby have either hand-picked, or signed off on, many of the federal judges now serving in Alabama's three districts.

Recently issued fraudulent court opinions raise this ticklish question: Are Sessions and Shelby actively involved in directing their judicial sycophants to rule in certain ways, favoring parties connected to right-wing politics, while cheating parties who aren't? If so, are Sessions and Shelby engaging in criminal behavior? More on that in a moment.

A modest amount of research reveals two alarming trends about Sessions, Shelby, and the federal judiciary: (1) They have shown consistently awful judgment in pushing unqualified and unfit candidates for the bench; (2) They tend to favor candidates for their ability to pay, not their intellectual heft, integrity, or judicial temperament.

As for trend No. 1, we merely need point to Mark Fuller, the heavy-drinking, pill-popping, spouse-cheating, wife-beating "arbiter" of the Don Siegelman case in the Middle District of Alabama. Fuller probably would still be on the bench, except that he got caught slapping wife No. 2 around in an Atlanta hotel room, creating a stench that even his judicial colleagues could not bear, so they forced him to step down.

As for trend No. 2, we merely need point to U.S. district judges Virginia Emerson Hopkins and R. David Proctor (Northern District of Alabama), who have conducted a hatchet job on our "House Case," currently on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit. (See here and here.)

Publicly available documents suggest Hopkins is a hack for Richard Shelby. A report titled "Money Trails to the Federal Bench," from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), indicates Hopkins wound up on the federal bench because of the cold-hard cash she helped funnel to Sen. Shelby, with some also going to Sen. Sessions.

A major conduit for the money flow was Christopher Hopkins, the judge's husband who is an attorney in Anniston. From the CIR report on Virginia Emerson Hopkins:

Hopkins, Virginia Emerson U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama Nominated: October 14, 2003 | Confirmed: June 15, 2004 
Summary: In May 2003, five months before her nomination, Hopkins and her husband, attorney Christopher Hopkins, each contributed $1,000 to Sen. Shelby, who strongly supported her nomination. On Halloween 2003, two weeks after Hopkins was nominated by the White House, President Bush received $2,000 from Hopkins’ husband. Sen. Sessions, also a backer of her nomination, later received $1,000 from husband Christopher Hopkins several months after her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Sessions is a member. Overall, Hopkins’ husband made nearly $9,000 in federal contributions between 2000-2004, with all but $500 going to Republicans. 
Virginia Hopkins, formerly an attorney in private practice, gave Bush $250 in 2000. Chronology: • May 21, 2003: Shelby receives $2,000 total from Hopkins and her husband. • October 14, 2003: Bush nominates Hopkins. • October 31, 2003: Bush-Cheney campaign receives $2,000 from Hopkins’ husband. • November 19, 2003: Confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. • March 2, 2004: Sessions receives $1,000 from Hopkins’ husband. • June 15, 2004: Hopkins is confirmed by the Senate.

Bottom line: The first highlighted section shows that Christopher Hopkins made $9,000 in federal contributions just before, and after, his wife was nominated to the federal bench. The second highlighted section shows a regular money trail leading from Christopher and Virginia Hopkins to Richard Shelby, the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Jeff Sessions. All of these contributions came between May 2003 and March 2004, just before and after Virginia Hopkins was nominated.

Our verdict: Christopher and Virginia Hopkins bought a seat on the federal bench, and it had nothing to do with the nominee's judicial qualifications.

Here is the CIR summary about R. David Proctor. It shows that he is, to put it bluntly, a whore for Jeff Sessions:

Proctor, R. David U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama Nominated: May 1, 2003 | Confirmed: September 17, 2003

Summary: Proctor, formerly an attorney in private practice, was hired by Sen. Sessions in 1996, to represent him in a case in which he was charged with mishandling evidence as Alabama attorney general, according to the Birmingham News. From 2000 to 2002, Proctor contributed $1,775 to Sessions, $1,600 to an unsuccessful GOP congressional candidate, and $300 to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Bottom line: Proctor didn't just buy his seat. He "earned" it by representing Sessions, along with Terry Price (nephew of black federal judge U.W. Clemon), which forced Clemon off the case and might have saved Sessions' political bacon. For good measure, Proctor shipped $1,775 directly to Sessions.

Our verdict: Via courtroom chicanery and direct payments, Proctor has been a "whore" for Jeff Sessions, dating to at least 1996. Records clearly show that Proctor owes his seat on the federal bench to Sessions.

As for our earlier question about criminality, consider our "House Case" and "Jail Case," both currently on appeal. Combined, the two cases have at least five defendants (and that's a conservative number) connected to Sessions and/or Shelby. And the cases have been butchered at the trial level by Proctor and Hopkins. If Sessions and Shelby, or their surrogates, have been directing Proctor and Hopkins to issue the kind of fraudulent rulings that made Monroe Freedman want to puke . . . well, that likely indicates Proctor, Hopkins, Sessions, and Shelby, and certain surrogates have been engaging in obstruction of justice.

Ironically, the obstruction issue is swirling around various members of the Trump administration -- including Sessions -- at this moment.

You likely have heard the old saying that no one wants to see how sausage actually is made. Well, this post provides a glimpse at how "justice" is produced in this country -- and it might be even uglier than what goes on in a sausage plant.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Personal-injury lawyer, who is married to attorney at Alexander Shunnarah firm, appears at extramarital-affairs site


Chris and Stephanie Emens Balzli
(From Tuscaloosa News)
A young Birmingham attorney, who already has brought in more than $3.2-million in personal-injury cases, appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Web site, according to publicly available documents. His wife is an attorney at perhaps Alabama's most widely advertised law firm.

Christopher J. Balzli, who had been with the Weaver Tidmore law firm since 2014, focuses on wrongful death, medical negligence, trucking accidents, auto accidents, and mass-tort litigation. He recently left Weaver Tidmore to start a solo practice.

Balzli completed his degree in 2011 at Jones School of Law in Montgomery and promptly joined one of the state's best-known plaintiffs' firms -- Beasley Allen Crow, Methvin Portis and Miles, of Montgomery.  From Balzli's bio at the Weaver Tidmore Web site:

Christopher Joseph Balzli was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He is a 2003 graduate of Vestavia Hills High School. Chris obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama in 2007, with a major in Political Science and a double minor in Business Management Computer Science. While an undergraduate, Chris was recognized as a Pi Kappa Phi Academic Scholar. Chris went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Alabama in 2011. As a third year law student, Chris obtained a 3L practice card which allowed him to serve as an intern with the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. Before finishing school, Chris also received his certification in Alternative Dispute Resolution.

Chris began his legal career at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis and Miles, P.C. in Montgomery. While at Beasley Allen, Chris worked in the firms Toxic Tort’s section, focusing mainly on the BP Oil Spill litigation. After four years in Montgomery, Chris decided to move back to his hometown of Birmingham and joined Weaver Tidmore LLC in July of 2014. Chris is an accomplished attorney with litigation experience focused on wrongful death, medical negligence, trucking accidents, auto accidents, and mass tort litigation.

Chris obtained his first settlement of over $800,000 in just his second year of practice. Since then, Chris has successfully obtained over $3.2 million in verdicts and settlements for his clients.

According to a published report, Balzli married Stephanie Countiess Emens, of Tuscaloosa, in October 2011. From the article about their wedding:

The bride is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Steven Countiss Emens of Tuscaloosa. She is the granddaughter of Col. (Ret.) and Mrs. Louie Franklin of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Mrs. Arthur Greenhill Emens of Tuscaloosa and the late Mr. Arthur Greenhill Emens Jr.

Groom’s parents are Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Joseph Balzli Jr. of Vestavia Hills. He is the grandson of Mr. Clifford Joseph Balzli, Sr. of Point Clear, Mrs. Richard Riess of Birmingham, and the late Mr. and Mrs. James Max Harrison, Sr. of Mobile.

After a trip to Cancun, Mexico, the couple will live in Vestavia Hills.

Stephanie Emens Balzli is an attorney with the Alexander Shunnarah law firm, whose billboards and TV ads are omnipotent throughout central Alabama. From Ms. Balzli's bio at the Shunnarah firm Web site:

Stephanie Balzli is committed to the passionate pursuit of justice on behalf of her clients. Stephanie has significant litigation and trial experience, having obtained multiple six figure verdicts as lead counsel in personal injury cases. She has prevailed against large corporations, insurance companies, and individual defendants at trial. Stephanie’s practice centers around motor vehicle collisions, premises liability, UM/UIM coverage, catastrophic injury cases and trucking cases. . . .

Stephanie Balzli
(From shunnarah.com)
 In law school, Stephanie competed across the country as an advocate on the school’s national trial competition teams. She also served as a senior editor for the law school’s Journal of the Legal Profession and her student comment, “The Methodology and Manipulation of the U.S. News Law School Rankings” was selected for publication by the journal. Stephanie further served the school as a Student Bar Association senator, as a Law School Ambassador, and also as President of the Bench and Bar Legal Honor Society.

Stephanie and her husband Chris live in Hoover and are members of Prince of Peace Catholic Church. They enjoy Alabama football, hunting, and summer sunsets over Mobile Bay. They are the proud parents of a beautiful baby girl named Mary Lou and a goofy weimaraner named Buck.

We sought comment from Chris Balzli about his activities at Ashley Madison, but he has not responded to our queries.


Previously:

Article with links to 1-20 in Ashley Madison series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(29) Shawn Baker, developer, Blackwater Resources, Birmingham (4/24/17)

(30) David Deusner, attorney/forensics, Control Risks, Birmingham/Washington, D.C. (4/26/17)

(31) David J. Harrison, attorney, Geneva, AL (6/8/17)

(32) Michael Mullis, managing partner, Kelley and Mullis, Birmingham (4/12/17)

Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor, while in Alabama AG's office, targeted companies for investigation and then solicited those companies, according to court doc


Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Jeff Sessions
As Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions prepares to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee today about his undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, new evidence has surfaced that Sessions and his chief protege engaged in misconduct while serving in the Alabama AG's office.

Sessions allegedly solicited companies the AG's office was investigating, according to a 2004 court document. U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor, who followed Sessions as Alabama AG, also engaged in such schemes, according to the document.

The allegations suggest that Sessions and Pryor, using the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) as a conduit, targeted companies for investigation and then solicited the same companies -- apparently strong-arming them to make political contributions in exchange for the investigations being dropped.

Ironically, Alabama GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison, who has worked for both Sessions and Pryor, has served as executive director and senior adviser at RAGA, until quietly backing away from the organization -- or being forced out -- in January 2016. Was Garrison involved in dubious activities at RAGA? The answer to that question remains unclear, but the 2004 court document clearly points to possible wrongdoing involving Sessions and Pryor.

If proven, the activity could amount to a blatantly criminal quid pro quo ("something for something" deal) and put Pryor and Sessions at the center of one of the most egregious abuses of the justice system in modern history. It also would suggest that Pryor's adventures in 1990s gay pornography amount to a relatively mild scandal in his closet.

The court document indicates the charges against Pryor came before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings in 2003, but there is no sign that the George W. Bush Justice Department investigated the matter. The document also shows discovery that might have unmasked the scheme was not allowed.

The Pryor/Sessions allegations grew from a case style USX v. Tieco, which started in the mid 1990s and dragged well into the 2000s. Tieco argued that United States Steel (USX of USS) was one of the companies that Pryor/Sessions targeted, then solicited, then granted favorable treatment in court. In short, according to Tieco, USX was allowed to buy "justice" -- via Pryor, Sessions, and RAGA. From the 2004 court document:

In its most current form (Doc. 388, TIECO Supplement To Motion For New Trial), the heart of the newly discovered evidence claim relates to the relationship between the Alabama Attorney General’s office and USS. TIECO says it has now come to light that former Attorney General (now 11 Circuit Judge) Pryor, may have been involved in fund raising involving USS. TIECO says [2003] proceedings before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee contained allegations that former Attorney General Pryor may have been involved, as a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association, in solicitations of companies being investigated by the Attorney General’s office, and that this may also have been the case with companies (like USS) whose causes TIECO alleges were being championed by the Alabama Attorney General’s office. TIECO says a USS PAC made campaign contributions to then Attorney General Sessions and Mr. Pryor for their campaigns (Pryor was Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General Sessions and succeeded him in that office), and afterwards, and that this activity encompassed the period of time involved in the case and the “bad acts” of USS and the Attorney General’s office. TIECO seeks as part of its discovery an Order directing that all the documents relating to these activities be produced, along with documents relating to the Republican Attorneys General Association dealings with USS, and similar documents from the files of Senator Sessions and former Attorneys General Sessions and Pryor.

Was TIECO successful in its efforts to obtain potentially damaging discovery involving Jeff Sessions and Bill Pryor? Not exactly. Virginia Emerson Hopkins was the judge who wrote the 2004 opinion, and we've discovered evidence that she obtained her seat largely through significant contributions she and her husband (Anniston, AL, lawyer Christopher M. Hopkins) made to Sessions, the Bush-Cheney campaign, and U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby. (More on this in an upcoming post.)

Bill Pryor: Robed and disrobed
How did Judge Hopkins handle the matter? For the most part, she punted to the Eleventh Circuit, which would include Bill Pryor in 2005. She also denied TIECO's Rule 60 Motion for a New Trial. From Hopkins' 2004 order:

In light of the court’s ruling on the Rule 60 (b) Motion For New Trial, any TIECO discovery requests are moot. In the alternative, for the reasons stated infra, the court does not believe that any discovery TIECO could obtain could change in any meaningful or relevant way the core rulings of the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals in this action or persuade the Court of Appeals to revisit those rulings. Put another way, it is for the Court of Appeals, not this court, to say that the issues regarding the Alabama Attorney General’s office are to be revisited a third time.

Does that smell like a cover-up to you? If so, that's probably because it is one.

It suggests Jeff Sessions is quite experienced when it comes to cover-ups, and he likely is involved in one right now regarding the Trump/Russia scandal.