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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Robert Bentley's 2014 campaign paid more than $400,000 to company owned by governor's mistress


Rebekah Caldwell Mason, her husband Jon,
and their three children
(From Facebook)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley paid more than $400,000 in campaign funds during the 2014 election cycle to a company that his mistress owns. Also, Bentley hired his mistress' husband for a state position that has paid more than $390,000 over the past five years.

Rebekah Caldwell Mason owns RCM Communications Inc. of Tuscaloosa, which was handsomely compensated for its work in advertising and polling for Bentley's re-election campaign in 2014, according to records from the Alabama Secretary of State's Office.

First Lady Dianne Bentley filed for divorce last Friday after 50 years of marriage, and we reported yesterday that an extramarital affair with Mason was the primary source of friction in the governor's marriage.

Mason became Bentley's communications director after his 2010 election, and she served as press secretary for the 2014 campaign. Bentley hired her husband, former WVUA weatherman Jon Mason, in 2011 to serve as director of the Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

It's not clear yet how much Rebekah Mason has been paid in taxpayer money since Bentley became governor. But between her pay from campaign funds, and her husband's pay from state resources . . . well, serving Team Bentley has been lucrative for the Mason family.

How lucrative? According to Lagniappe, a weekly publication in Mobile, the Bentley campaign paid RCM Communications more than $112,000 for advertising in 2013, the year before the election. That was the single largest expenditure from all campaign accounts for that year. From the article, titled "Rules Vague on 'Personal Use' of campaign finance money":

The year before an election, campaign committees across Alabama spent more than $4.5 million from their respective accounts in 2013, according to a review of recent reports. The expenses were ledgered against more than $15.4 million in itemized statewide cash contributions.

Besides Gov. Robert Bentley, who was the leading fundraiser in the cash category with $3.1 million last year, other leaders included Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey with $466,840.59, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard with $444,697.44, Sen. Roger Bedford with $396,615.73, Sen. Slade Blackwell with $379,550 and Sen. Arthur Orr with $343,010.00. . . .

Combined, Hubbard’s legal expenses were the second-largest single expense from all campaign accounts last year behind Gov. Bentley, who paid RCM Communications in Tuscaloosa $112,000 for advertising.

The payment for advertising was not the only money RCM received from the Bentley campaign in 2013. The total figure for that year is $143,700.75, with the additional funds coming in categories such as "polling/consulting," "travel," "lodging," and "administrative."

Lagniappe points out that candidates can dip into dangerous territory if they use campaign funds for "personal use":

Rebekah Caldwell Mason, with
U of Alabama coach Nick Saban
(From Facebook)
Alabama’s Fair Campaign Practices Act (FCPA) dictates how and when campaign contributions can be solicited and spent. For expenditures over $100, candidates must report who received the payment along with the amount and purpose of the expense. The law says candidates may spend money from the accounts for purposes “reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held,” while excluding personal and legislative living expenses. Alabama legislators currently earn more than $50,000 annually and also receive some transportation costs.

The FCPA more specifically prohibits expenses on household supplies, personal clothing, tuition payments, mortgage or rent, utility payments for a personal residence, admission or event fees for a country club or a social club, or any other expense, excluding food and beverages, which “would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign or duties as a legislator.” The state’s Ethics Act defines the law further, adding that contributions to an officeholder or candidate shall not be converted for personal use.

Were the payments to Rebekah Mason's company made in part because of her personal relationship with the governor? The answer is unclear at the moment. But it is clear that she was paid well.

In 2014, during the months leading to the November election, RCM received $283,277.38 from the Bentley campaign. If my math is correct, that brings the company's total haul, over roughly a 14-month period in two calendar years, to $426,978.43.

When you add Jon Mason's state salary for that time frame, the Mason family brought in more than half a million dollars--in just more than one year's time. All from Bentley-related activities.

Speaking of Jon Mason, where does Rebekah Caldwell Mason's husband fit into this picture? We will take a look at that in an upcoming post.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley engaged in extramarital affair that prompted First Lady's divorce complaint


Gov. Robert Bentley and
Rebekah Caldwell Mason
(From HBTV.us)
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley engaged in an extramarital affair with his former communications director, leading First Lady Dianne Bentley to file for divorce last Friday after 50 years of marriage, sources tell Legal Schnauzer.

Rebekah Caldwell Mason, a married mother of three from Bentley's home base of Tuscaloosa, was the governor's mistress in an affair that sources say raises a number of possible legal issues--including use of the state jet and a state trooper's services for personal reasons that had nothing to do with Bentley's official role.

According to Dianne Bentley's divorce complaint, the couple separated in January 2015 because of a "complete incompatibility of temperament" and a "conflict of personalities which destroys the legitimate aims of matrimony." In fact, sources say, Gov. Bentley's affair with Mason destroyed the matrimonial bonds.

The 72-year-old Bentley, a Republican serving in his second term, repeatedly has touted his Christian faith and conservative "family values" to attract voters. He long has served as a deacon at First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa. Bentley made national headlines in 2011 when, shortly after his inauguration, he said, ""Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister. And I want to be your brother."

Rebekah Caldwell Mason, sources say, quickly became more than just a communications director to Bentley. Their affair became so widely known that it diluted any moral authority the governor might have had. "He's been impotent as governor for at least the last six months," one source told Legal Schnauzer. "People have been going into his office and saying, 'Do what I want or I'm going to play the girlfriend card.' People have been running all over him."

Who is Rebekah Caldwell Mason? She first came to public attention while serving as press secretary for Bentley's 2010 campaign. When Bentley rose from relative obscurity to win the GOP primary and defeat Democrat Ron Sparks in the general election, Mason became the new governor's communications director.

On Twitter, Mason describes herself as follows:

Wife, Mom of 3. Fan of Football. Business Owner. Senior Advisor for a great Gov. Love Family, Jesus and Reece's (sic) Cups. Not necessarily in that order.

Sources describe Mason as "between the ages of 38 and 40," meaning she is more than 30 years Bentley's junior. She is a former television newscaster and the wife of a former TV weatherman. An article at Yellowhammer Newsportrays her as a highly influential figure in the governor's camp:

It’s easy to forget, but there was a time when Robert Bentley was a little-known state representative from Tuscaloosa launching a long-shot bid for governor. Very few people believed he had much of a chance against better funded candidates. But Mason was one of the true believers from the very beginning.

After Bentley was elected, Mason came into the administration as Communications Director. Bentley World has been basically devoid of controversy, which can be attributed in part to Mason’s deft handling of the communications shop.

Now that she’s moved outside of the administration, it’s freed her up to take on a greater role in shaping the big-picture direction of the governor’s office and re-election campaign, rather than having to get bogged down in the day-to-day operations.

Staffers and administration officials frequently bring problems or ideas to Mason first to find out how to best present them to the governor. And she’s written or refined pretty much any important speech or comment the governor has given over the last four years.

“Rebekah’s the governor’s voice,” one senior administration staffer told Yellowhammer. “I don’t think you can overstate how influential she is when it comes to the message the public hears from this governor.”

As it turns out, Mason might have been too influential. The Bentley-Mason affair, in the aftermath of Dianne Bentley's divorce complaint, has left the governor's administration teetering. Legal fallout from the affair could have ugly consequences, including Bentley's resignation and a possible criminal investigation. From one source:

I have . . . been told that Bentley's trooper facilitated the affair, and that the state jet was used extensively to facilitate it. And that Bentley and Mason actually used it as a bedroom at times when Mrs. Bentley was still living in the mansion. . . . The use of state resources to facilitate an affair would surely violate state law; guess it would be difficult to prove since I'm sure the woman's name likely did not appear on the jet's flight log.

Actually, Mason's name does appear on multiple flight lists for the first quarter of 2015. She is listed as a senior political advisor. Here are the flights:

Rebekah Caldwell Mason
(1) Date of departure: January 28 Destination: Washington, D.C. Purpose: Testify before Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Passengers: Governor Robert Bentley; Executive Protection Officer; Transportation Director John Cooper; Photographer Jamie Martin; Communications Director Jennifer Ardis; Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason Date of return: January 28

(2) Date of departure: March 24 Destination: Dothan Purpose: Legislative Update to Dothan Chamber; meeting with Dothan Mayor Passengers: Governor Robert Bentley; Executive Protection Officer; Local Government Affairs Director Zach Lee; Legislative Director Ross Gunnells; Photographer Jamie Martin; Communications Director Jennifer Ardis; Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason Date of return: March 24

(3) Date of departure: March 26 Destination: Huntsville, Birmingham Purpose: Interview with WAFF; Legislative Update to Huntsville Chamber; Greet President of the United States Passengers: Governor Robert Bentley; Executive Protection Officer; Local Government Director Zach Lee; Photographer Jamie Martin; Communications Director Jennifer Ardis; Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason Date of return: March 26

(4) Date of departure: March 27 Destination: Mobile, Gulf Shores Purpose: Legislative Update to Mobile Chamber; Interviews with WALA Fox 10 and WKRG; meeting with Mobile officials; transport Governor to Gulf Shores Passengers: Governor Robert Bentley; Executive Protection Officer; Local Government Director Zach Lee; Press Secretary Yasamie August; Digital Media Coordinator Daniel Sparkman; Legislative Senate Liaison Derek Trotter; Senior Political Advisor Rebekah Mason Date of return: March 27

Neither Mason nor Communications Director Jennifer Ardis responded to our requests for comments. We will have more on the Bentley-Mason affair, and its possible legal fallout, in upcoming posts.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ashley Madison data indicates Alabama attorney Rob Campbell likes providing oral sex, but not to his wife


Rob Campbell
Birmingham attorney Rob Campbell, according to his profile at the hacked Ashley Madison Web site, likes to provide oral sex. But that apparently does not apply to his wife because Campbell describes himself on the extramarital-affair site as a "single male, seeking female."

That surely would be news to his wife, lawyer and Republican Party operative Minda Riley Campbell, who happens to be the daughter of former Alabama governor Bob Riley (GOP, 2003-11).

Records show that Campbell, a partner at the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings (BABC) law firm, joined Ashley Madison at 10:16 a.m. on Sept. 1, 2014. He used a computer with an outbound IP address of 107.139.149.253, which was located on or near the 700/800 block of Zelda Place in Homewood, Alabama. The Campbells' home address is 700 Zelda Place, Birmingham, Alabama, 35209.

Campbell has made at least three Ashley Madison purchases this year, each for an amount of $19.99. His billing address is 1819 Fifth Ave. N, Birmingham, AL 35203. That's the address for Bradley Arant.

An overview of Campbell's Ashley Madison profile can be viewed at the end of this post. His user name is "Anything Goes," and he describes himself as a "45-year-old professional looking for new friends and adventures."

What turns Campbell on? His profile says it's "casual jeans/T-shirt type, girl next door, sense of humor, creative and adventurous, relax and easy going, confidence, not possessive."

Are we to assume that Campbell finds some of those attributes missing in his wife? Hmmm.

What is Campbell open to? It's "conventional sex, light kinky fun, erotic tickling, open to experimentation, good with your hands, likes to give oral sex, extended foreplay/teasing, sex talk, bubble baths for two."

There you have it, ladies. The name is Rob Campbell, and you can find him (for now) at 700 Zelda Place, the Bradley Arant law firm, or Ashley Madison. On the Web, just ask for "Anything Goes."


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bob Riley's son-in-law, a Bradley Arant lawyer, appears in data from hack of Ashley Madison, the Web site whose theme is "life is short, have an affair"

Rob Campbell
Documents show that the son-in-law of former Alabama governor Bob Riley is among the participants in Ashley Madison, the Web site designed to facilitate extramarital affairs.

Account information for Rob Campbell, a partner at the Birmingham law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings (BABC), appears in the data dumped from a hack of some 37 million Ashley Madison users around the globe. Sources have compiled a list of Alabama users, many of them prominent individuals (lawyers, doctors, CEOs, CFOs, etc.), and we are planning a series of posts on the subject.

Rob Campbell is married to Minda Riley Campbell, daughter to the former governor and sister to Homewood attorney and Republican Party operative Rob Riley. Here is how Rob Campbell's Ashley Madison information appears in one database compiled of Alabama users:

ROBERT CAMPBELL,655.8,RJCAMPBELL35209@GMAIL.COM,1819 Fifth Ave N,Birmingham,35203

The number after Campbell's name is the amount of money he has spent with Ashley Madison, according to the data dump. The address for him--1819 Fifth Ave N, Birmingham, 35203--is the address for Bradley Arant. Sources say Rob Campbell is one of several Bradley Arant lawyers on the list.

We sought comment from both Rob Campbell and Minda Riley Campbell, but they did not respond to our queries.

According to a number of news reports, data from two dumps released so far includes identifying information for paying Ashley Madison members--e-mail addresses, physical addresses, amounts paid, etc. The hacking group called Impact Team has released a third data dump that reportedly includes nude photos and chat sessions among Ashley Madison users.

Our sources are combing through that information now, and it is expected to be in publishable form in a few days. Henry County Report, a Web site based in southeast Alabama, already has published nude photos (with strategically placed black boxes) of a lawyer and a doctor from the Dothan area.

Slabbed, an alternative news site based in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, linked to a Pastebin URL, which contained data for Ashley Madison users in Louisiana and Mississippi. Publisher Doug Handshoe said his site has been overwhelmed with readers since publishing the Ashley Madison lists, causing Slabbed to crash several times in recent days. Handshoe said in a comment at the site that a normal month's worth of visitors had come to the site in the past two or three days.

In a post last night, Handshoe said Slabbed received more than 1,000 visits in a 10-minute period yesterday afternoon. The site temporarily disabled two posts on the Ashley Madison queries in order to reduce traffic to a manageable level and get back online.

How many visits did Rob Campbell make to Ashley Madison, and what did those visits entail? We likely will have that information soon--for Campbell and a number of other prominent Alabamians.

That Bradley Arant lawyers would be outed in the Ashley Madison data dump is filled with irony. The firm reportedly raked in more than $10 million during Bob Riley's final two years in office (2008-10), ostensibly to fight "illegal" electronic-bingo facilities that the firm had declared were legal just a few years earlier.

Minda Riley Campbell
Why was Bradley Arant so popular with the Riley administration, to the point that the firm was showered with millions of taxpayer dollars? One reason appears to be that Rob Campbell worked there--or at least did some work there when he wasn't visiting a Web site that promotes extramarital affairs.

Bradley Arant also has contributed heavily to Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, who picked up the e-bingo battle from Bob Riley. As of July 2013, BABC had received $364,000 in public funds to help Strange's office fight e-bingo. The firm had contributed $21,000 to Strange during and after his 2010 campaign, so those numbers reflect a 1,730 percent return on investment for BABC.

As for Rob Campbell, what kind of law does he practice, when he isn't visiting Ashley Madison? This is from his bio at the BABC Web site:

Rob Campbell is a partner in the firm’s Birmingham, Alabama office, where his practice is comprised of a broad range of complex commercial litigation, including financial institution, class action, multidistrict and parallel proceedings, insurance coverage and sales practices litigation. Rob also counsels clients with respect to insurance regulatory issues and regulatory investigations.

Much of Rob’s practice is devoted to defending insurance and financial services litigation, particularly class action and opt-out litigation, throughout the Southeast. His clients include Liberty National Life Insurance Company, MONY Life Insurance Company, The Principal Financial Group, Jefferson Pilot Life Insurance Company, AXA-Equitable Insurance Company, GE Life and Annuity Assurance Company, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, and Southland National Insurance Corporation, among others.

Are all of Rob Campbell's clients now indirectly tied to the Ashley Madison scandal? That's hard to say, but we know that at least one of them--Liberty National Life Insurance--is directly connected to Ashley Madison.

More on that in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Here is evidence of a con job that Rob Riley's lawyers pulled in the defamation case that sent me to jail


Jay Murrill
If you ever are in a court case and complain that the opposing side is writing orders for the judge, a lawyer is likely to say something along the lines of, "Oh, that's common practice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it."

That, of course, is easy for him to say. He hasn't been in a case where the opposing party is writing orders, which include wildly inaccurate citations to law, and he winds up in jail because of it.

I have been in that position. In fact, I'm going to show you exactly how an opposing party can write orders that are not remotely supported by law--and a compromised judge is so lazy and corrupt (or both) that he lets it go.

We are talking about Judge Claud Neilson's order that granted a preliminary injunction against me in the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke defamation case. Evidence in the record suggests that members of Riley's own law firm, probably Jay Murrill in most instances, wrote every order in the case--and Neilson simply rubber stamped them.

Was this an important order? Well, it caused me to go to jail for five months. It also was intended to send my wife, Carol, to jail--even though she had nothing to do with writing, editing, or administering my blog. Thankfully, Shelby County, Alabama, sheriff's deputies failed to abduct her, and she was able to spread news about what had happened to me--turning the case into a national and international news story, with reports from The New York Times, Al-Jazeera, and many lesser known news outlets of both the mainstream and non-traditional varieties.

In Neilson's order, Riley's lawyers cite 13 cases that purport to show that a preliminary injunction is a lawful remedy in a defamation case. The citations start in the second paragraph on page 2 and continue in Footnote 3. (You can read the order at the end of this post.)

The Riley lawyers introduce their legal handiwork by stating: "Injunctive relief can be an appropriate and effective remedy to repeated and ongoing defamatory speech." To support this notion, they cite a case styled South v. City of Mountain Brook, 688 So. 2d 292 (Ala Crim. App., 1996), followed by a footnote that refers the reader to 12 other cases that supposedly say more or less the same thing.

There is a slight problem, however, with all of this. The South case does not remotely say what Team Riley claims it says--and neither do the 12 cases cited in the footnotes. I'm not the only individual to make note of this--so have multiple legal experts.

As First Amendment expert Ken White wrote at the Popehat blog, "It appears that the drafter of this order simply scoured the nation for the handful of outlier cases saying something positive about injunctions against defamation — plus the tiny number of cases approving them pretrial — while completely ignoring the authority (including from the United States Supreme Court) that such injunctions are inappropriate." Actually, it's worse than that--none of these cases says anything positive about injunctions against defamation, and none of them approved an injunction pretrial.

On top of that, almost all of them are from state courts outside of Alabama or federal district courts. In other words, they have zero precedential value--even if they were remotely on point, which they aren't.

What is the truth, from a legal standpoint? Neilson's preliminary injunction runs contrary to more than 200 years of First Amendment law; it's a classic "prior restraint," and there is no law to support what he did--what Riley's lawyers asked him to do.

Here is a brief rundown of the cases Team Riley cites, with a description of their actual findings and links so you can read the cases yourself, if you so desire. It will soon become clear that Riley's lawyers committed a not-so-subtle fraud--and it caused me to unlawfully lose five months of my freedom:

(1) South v. City of Mountain Brook, 688 So. 2d 292 (Ala. Crim. App., 1996)

Background: An Alabama man sought to have his conviction for harassing communications overturned.

Key holding: The man's conviction was proper under the Alabama criminal code.

Our verdict: As you can tell from the citation, this is not even a civil case; it's a criminal case. It has nothing to do with defamation or preliminary injunctions.

(2) Tory v. Cochran, 544 U.S. 734 (2005)

Background: Famed Los Angeles attorney Johnny Cochran brought a defamation claim against a former client who, dissatisfied with legal services he had received, protested at Cochran's office.

Key holding: In the wake of Cochran's death, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a state-ordered injunction but did not address the constitutional issues raised.

Our verdict: This is the only case on the Riley list that had the potential to set precedent in Alabama and throughout the country. But SCOTUS found that, because of Cochran's death, it would be unwarranted to address the issues raised by Tory's appeal.

(3) Balboa Island Village Inn v. Lemen, 156 P. 3d 359 (Cal., 2007)

Background: A woman was found at trial to have defamed the owners of a restaurant/bar that she felt had become a nuisance in her neighborhood.

Holding: A permanent injunction, after a finding of defamation at trial, can be proper if its terms are not overly broad and are limited. A preliminary injunction, which by definition comes before a trial, is unlawful.

Our verdict: Balboa's holding is the exact opposite of what Team Riley claims. It is a negative finding about preliminary injunctions.


(4) North America Recycling v. Texamet Recycling, 2012 WL 3283380 (S.D., Ohio, 2012)

Background: An Ohio recycling company claimed a competing company in Texas had made defamatory statements and engaged in tortious interference.

Holding: After Texamet failed to oppose summary judgment, a federal magistrate judge recommended certain damages, while acknowledging that his finding might cross the boundary into unlawful prior restraint. After Texamet failed to challenge the magistrate's recommendation, the district court upheld the damages and then remitted them, on certain conditions, while again acknowledging the problem of prior restraint. Strangely, the district judge claimed the case did not even involve an injunction. We can find no record that the case was appealed to a circuit court.

Our verdict: As the district judge stated, this case was not about an injunction; it was about a Texas company failing to adequately respond to a lawsuit brought against it in an Ohio federal court. The gist of the ruling is that Texamet did not defend itself, and here is a solid analysis of the court's actions, which really don't make much sense and almost certainly would be reversed if Texamet appealed.


We are roughly a fourth of the way through the cases cited in Judge Neilson's order. We will pick up with the rest of them in an upcoming post, and we promise that things won't look any better for Riley and his team. They lied about the real contents of the first four cases, and they lied about the rest of them, too.




Monday, August 24, 2015

Does U of Alabama trustee have connections that explain strange NY Times story on my incarceration?


Warren St. John and
Campbell Robertson
Does at least one member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees have connections to The New York Times that might explain the newspaper's bizarre article from January 2014 about my five-month incarceration?

If the answer is yes, what was the purpose of the article, given that it had almost zero journalistic merit--as shown by Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice-Integrity Project?

Let's look at the evidence, focusing on Finis St. John IV, a lawyer from Cullman, Alabama, and a high-profile member of his alma mater's board.

St. John is perhaps best known recent months as one of two trustees--along with Paul Bryant Jr.--most likely behind the decision to kill football at UAB, the UA System's campus in Birmingham. UAB President Ray Watts has said he will reinstate football, but his public statements include enough "ifs, ands, and buts" to suggest the once-promising program will remain on shaky ground for years to come.

UAB fans tend to see St. John and Bryant Jr. as demonic allies who are hell-bent on undercutting programs at the Birmingham campus. Blazer fans seem to have a blinding hatred for both St. John and Bryant--and my guess is that those feelings are justified.

As a one-time 20-year employee of UAB, and a long-time follower of Blazer athletics, I'm not too keen on St. John and Bryant myself--especially when you consider my long-held suspicions that one or both of them played a role in my unlawful termination from the university, for reporting accurately on this blog about the actions of wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller in the prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman.

For now, though, let's focus on Finis St. John IV and The New York Times. You might not expect a lawyer from Cullman, Alabama, to have ties to one of the world's most famous newspapers, but you would be wrong.

Finis St. John's cousin is Birmingham native Warren St. John, a former reporter in the Times' Style section. One of Warren St. John's former colleagues in the Style section is Campbell Robertson, a Montevallo, Alabama, native who now primarily covers the South and wrote the article about my incarceration.

Warren St. John has left the newspaper to focus on his career as an author. He has written two well-received books--Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip Into the Heart of Fan Mania (2004) and Outcasts United: An American Town, A Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference (2009).

Are Warren St. John and Campbell Robertson close? It seems likely, considering their shared Alabama roots, their stints in the same department at The New York Times, and the photo of the two of them we found at a 2005 book party for one of our favorite comedians and commentators--Bill Maher, of HBO.

Finis St. John IV
Does it stand to reason that Finis St. John, via his cousin and his own position of power at UA, might have some pull with Campbell Robertson? Could that pull be even stronger when it comes at the behest of St. John's trustee colleague, Paul Bryant Jr.

We've already shown that Bryant had reason to be uncomfortable about my reporting, perhaps enough to have me thrown in jail in an effort to shut down Legal Schnauzer. Did Campbell Robertson's sloppy, shallow, error-filled story in The New York Times play some role in furthering the Finis St. John/Paul Bryant Jr. agenda?

Let's consider a few takeaways from Robertson's article:

* He states that I had refused to hire a lawyer, even though his own words to Andrew Kreig prove that is not true;

* He claims my blog and I have been the targets of "many defamation lawsuits," while a simple check of public records shows that is not true;

* He seeks out Los Angeles First Amendment lawyer Ken White, author of the Popehat blog, as an expert about my case. White makes several accurate legal points, but Robertson allows him to take a number of personal digs at me--even though White does not know me, has never spoken to me or attempted to interview me, and clearly knows very little about my treacherous journey through Alabama courts;

* Robertson quotes multiple experts saying that the judge in my case acted contrary to law. But Robertson never bothers to name the judge (Claud Dent Neilson). and no editor at the prestigious newspaper managed to catch such a flagrant omission.

If Finis St. John pushed for the Times article, what might have been his motivations? If Paul Bryant Jr. played a role in my incarceration, and I think that is highly likely, I can think of several:

(1) The two trustees were concerned that my incarceration had drawn national and international attention in the press;

(2) They were concerned that an enterprising reporter might finally look in their direction for explanations;

(3) They wanted to portray me as a loon who hates all lawyers and regularly gets sued for defamation, thus making it harder to obtain legal counsel;

(4) They wanted to protect Claud Neilson for his unlawful (and probably criminal) actions;

(5) If I had retained a lawyer, or was about to retain one, they wanted to know who it was so they could attempt to "manage" my lawyer and turn him or her against me--thus, limiting their own exposure;

(6) They wanted to hurt my credibility as a journalist by getting a prominent newspaper to write a story about me that is filled with falsehoods.

Many questions remain unanswered on this subject, but this much is clear: Campbell Robertson had a chance to write a profoundly important article about an attack on constitutional freedoms in the Deep South, but he wound up producing a piece that would have gotten a first-year journalism student kicked out of school.

Why is that? I think Campbell Robertson probably is a capable reporter on most occasions, so why did he flop so badly on this one? A reasonable person might conclude it's because powerful forces in Alabama did not want him to produce a real piece of journalism in the first place--and a once-proud newspaper has slipped so badly that a substandard article actually found its way into print.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Executive for the badpuppy.com gay-porn "super store" offered to conduct research on Bill Pryor images


The chief financial officer (CFO) for badpuppy.com contacted me in late 2013 and offered to search the company's files for additional information about photos of U.S. Judge Bill Pryor that showed up on the gay-porn site in the 1990s.

Chad Belville, who also serves as general counsel, said the company was receiving inquiries from other media outlets, and he would let me know what the research turned up. Belville never got back to me, and he has not responded to e-mails seeking an update.

Does that mean the company started receiving political pressure--from the right, the left, or both--and decided to keep its information under wraps? Did the company see news of my kidnapping and incarceration and decided to call off plans to research the Bill Pryor topic? Was my "arrest" designed as a warning to Badpuppy, and perhaps others, that the Pryor story had better be left alone? The answer to the first two questions is yes, in my view. And I wouldn't be surprised if the answer to the third question also is yes.

Badpuppy's home base for roughly 20 years has been Cocoa, Florida. That just happens to be in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit (along with Alabama and Georgia), where one of the sitting judges is William H. Pryor. Is it possible that federal judges in the Eleventh Circuit could cause a lot of problems for a gay-porn company that helped disrobe one of its brethren? It doesn't require a lot of imagination to come up with an answer to that question

My communications with Belville have not turned up anything new about Bill Pryor. But they do provide insight into a company that has become a "super store" of gay pornography online. For example, the company was sold not long before we broke the Pryor story here at Legal Schnauzer. And while Badpuppy is known for its digital presence, its record keeping is, to a great extent, from the world of yesteryear. Here is what Belville wrote in an e-mail dated September 22, 2013--which was one month and one day before my unlawful arrest:

Hi Roger!

Badpuppy was sold to a man named Craig Jackson earlier this year after being owned by William Pinyon since its inception in 1995. I am currently serving as the CFO and General Counsel to Badpuppy Enterprises Inc.

The records for the site as it existed in 1997 are in file cabinets -- about 3 dozen of them -- and we are going to start digging into those files Monday morning. Other news outlets have begun to contact us regarding the nude image that was published on Badpuppy and we'd like to find some evidence that either supports the assumption that image is in fact Judge Pryor or shows that it is not him. . . .

I look at the photographs and I believe that is a young Bill Pryor.

Sincerely,

Chad Belville CFO and General Counsel, Badpuppy Enterprises Inc.

So, we've established that a top executive at badpuppy.com thinks the photo is of the Bill Pryor--not that I had any doubt about that. Here is my response to Belville:

Thanks for contacting me, Chad.

As you might have seen on my blog, I have three sources who were connected to a law-enforcement investigation that commenced upon receipt of a tip about the images in 1997--Pryor was set to be appointed Alabama attorney general at the time. Those sources say their investigation showed the images were of the Bill Pryor who now is a federal judge, and that's what my story is based upon.

I'm intrigued by the notation at the top of the WizardBoy Gallery that says the images were from a private collector named Ernie. Seems to be a clue about their origins.

I hope we can stay in touch.

As for the mysterious Ernie, we now suspect he was Ernie Potvin, the late writer and archivist who was well known in the gay-rights movement, especially on the West Coast. Ernie Potvin was extremely well connected, and several of his friends have been in touch with us about information on the likely origins of the Bill Pryor photos, which reportedly number between 10 and 15.

Bill Pryor
As for Chad Belville, we learned that he thinks like a prosecutor--because he used to be one. And he offered some intriguing legal insights about the Pryor story:

Thank you for your response Roger!

I'm hoping to find out more about the circumstances surrounding the removal of those pages from the websites in 1997. I was a prosecutor in 1999-2002 and I still think like one -- there is something fishy that happened here. If those images were removed to protect Pryor and Pryor knew about it, then Pryor intentionally covered up or failed to disclose he posed nude, he committed ethical violations. In a lot of high profile cases it is not the original act that gets a person in trouble, it is the attempted cover up. The impeachment of President Clinton was not for getting a blowjob in the Oval Office, he was accused of lying to Congress about it. Martha Stewart didn't get prosecuted for insider trading, she was prosecuted for lying to investigators.

Hopefully our internal searches at Badpuppy will uncover the truth about the images. I will let you know if we find anything.

Sincerely,

Chad

As you probably can tell, Chad Belville seems like a sharp guy, and I enjoyed my limited communication with him. He's in a key position at a company in transition, so it's possible he never found the time to do thorough research on the Pryor issue. It's also possible that political pressure from Pryor's protectors on the right convinced the company that it would be best to lay low on the subject.

And here is something for Schnauzer readers to ponder: I've seen signs that certain political forces on the left do not want the Pryor photos out there--at least not any more than they already have been. In fact, I've had one or two well-known media figures on the left try to discredit my reporting and not-so-subtly steer me away from the story.

Why would that be? Well, I have quite a bit of information on the subject. I also have a theory about what caused blow back from the left. If my theory proves correct, it is a fascinating story indeed--one tied to recent and historic news events.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Meet Marie Torre: She was the longest jailed U.S. journalist in a civil case--until my blog came along


Marie Torre
Marie Torre, without doubt, is the most famous U.S. journalist to be jailed in a civil case. That might be in part because Torre's incarceration came from writing about a famous person--the late actress Judy Garland.

Torre went on, however, to be a journalism pioneer in her own right. That's good because a record she once held now has been surpassed--by yours truly.

How big was the case that landed Marie Torre in jail? You can get a feel for that by viewing the newsreel footage, via YouTube, at the end of this post.

The 1958 lawsuit was styled Garland v. Torre, which had its roots in an article Torre wrote about Garland for the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune. In the article, a CBS executive was quoted as saying Garland did not want to appear in a network television special because she considered herself to be "terribly fat" at the time.

Garland sued for defamation, and Torre went to jail when a judge held her in criminal contempt for refusing to identify her source during depositions. For 56 years, Torre's 10-day stay in jail stood as the longest for a U.S. journalist in a civil matter, one that had nothing to do with allegations of criminal activity.

That record fell, in a big way, when I was jailed for 155 days--from October 23, 2013, until March 26, 2014--because of a defamation lawsuit that Alabama GOP political operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke filed. Circuit Judge Claud Neilson ordered me held for alleged civil contempt of a temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction. I broke Torre's record largely because civil contempt is open ended--Neilson ordered me jailed until certain items were removed from this blog--while criminal contempt usually is limited to a relatively brief time frame--perhaps five or 10 days.

A reasonable person might think criminal contempt would be a worse punishment than civil contempt, but it's actually the other way around. There is quite a bit of debate in the legal world about whether open-ended civil contempt, most often applied in cases of unpaid child support, should be lawful--and whether it's effective.

In my case, it neither was lawful nor effective. More than 200 years of First Amendment law, most famously found in the landmark 1931 U.S. Supreme Court case Near v. Minnesota, holds that TROs and preliminary injunctions are unlawful prior restraints in defamation cases. I spent five months in jail for writing articles that never have been found to be defamatory at trial; in fact, there never was a trial in my case. And there was no jury because Riley and Duke, inexplicably, did not seek one--even though longstanding law holds that defamation cases must be heard by a jury, so that a judge cannot act as a one-man censor.

The civil contempt in my case wasn't effective because, like Garland v. Torre, it attracted national and international news. The New York Times and Al-Jazeera were among the numerous news outlets that spread the supposedly defamatory information about Riley and Duke around the world. Civil contempt is designed to be coercive, to force someone to do something, such as pay child support. But it loses its purpose when a lawsuit causes the alleged defamatory news to be spread around the globe.

More importantly, a journalist cannot lawfully be found in contempt of a TRO or injunction that is an unlawful prior restraint to begin with. Despite that, I likely still would be in jail if my wife, Carol, had not figured out how to remove certain information from my blog.

Alternet, in an article by Nicole Flatow, ranked my case No. 1 on its list of "The 10 Most Appalling Failures of the American Justice System" in 2013. I remain the only U.S. journalist to be jailed since 2006. The other five journalists jailed in the 2000s involved their reporting on criminal matters, and the incarcerations probably were lawful under a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Branzburg v. Hayes.

What happened to Marie Torre? Her stand for the First Amendment became quite a cause in journalism circles. Dorothy Kilgallen, a journalist who later became best known as a panelist on the game show What's My Line?, wrote in her syndicated column:

I never thought I would live to see the day when anyone would be thrown into the jug for saying Judy Garland had problems. . . . Stripping the current celebrated cause of its legal passementerie, Miss Torre lost her freedom for refusing to say who told her that Judy had an inferiority complex, would not make up her mind about anything, and was 'terribly fat.'

That is like being sent to the Bastille for reporting that the weather was cold yesterday and the Empire State Building is situated at Fifth Ave. and 34th St.

Marie Torre went on to become the first female anchor (1962-77) at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was one of the first female anchors in the country. Perhaps being the target of a misguided lawsuit helped her career, I, for one, certainly hope so.

I guess Marie Torre and I will always be kindred spirits of a sort. I have become one of her fans and find myself periodically looking up information about her on the Web. If jail is hard on a man--and I can tell you for sure that it is--I can only guess that it is even more unpleasant for a woman. That Marie Torre stood her ground, and stood up for freedom of the press, tells me she had principles that should be admired.

Ms. Torre did, for sure, stand her ground. She died in 1997, at age 72, and an article about her death in The New York Times reported the following:

Miss Torre, who shortened her last name from Torregrossa, was born in Brooklyn. She joined the Herald Tribune staff in 1955. As a radio and television columnist in 1957, she quoted a CBS executive, whom she did not name, as saying that Judy Garland was balking about doing a CBS special ''because she thinks she is terribly fat.''

Miss Garland sued the network for $1.39 million, and Miss Torre, as a witness in a pretrial hearing, was ordered by the court to disclose the name of her source. She refused, arguing that a reporter should not be compelled to reveal sources in court because such an order violated the First Amendment's guarantee of press freedom.

''She never revealed his name, even to members of our family,'' Mr. Lopez said yesterday.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do Judge Claud Neilson's ties to Bill Baxley point to Paul Bryant Jr. as a force behind my incarceration?


From Bill Baxley's campaign, managed
by Paul Bryant Jr.
We have shown that Claud Neilson, the judge who unlawfully ordered me jailed in the Rob Riley/Liberty Duke defamation case, has longstanding ties to Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley. And we know that Baxley represents Republican operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison in a companion defamation claim that resulted in a $3.5-million default judgment, which I am seeking to have overturned.

But our inquiry does not end there. We also know that Baxley has strong ties to University of Alabama trustee Paul Bryant Jr. Baxley, a rising political star in the 1970s, was friends with the late Crimson Tide football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, and that apparently helped make him close to Bryant's son, who has built a business empire while mostly dodging a federal investigation of insurance fraud in the late 1990s.

How close are Baxley and Bryant Jr.? Bryant once served as Baxley's campaign manager in a run for governor. (See campaign document at upper right.)

Is it possible that Neilson, via his pal Baxley, also is close to Bryant Jr.? Is it possible the three of them participated in a conspiracy to have me thrown in jail because of my reporting on certain subjects at this blog?

We don't have a definitive answer to those questions. But we do know that I am the reporter who broke the story about Bryant's ties to an insurance-fraud scam that resulted in a 15-year federal prison sentence for a Pennsylvania lawyer/entrepreneur named Allen W. Stewart. We also know that I was the primary source for an article at Bloomberg Markets that brought Bryant's connections to insurance fraud to a national and international audience. (See the print version of the article at the end of this post.)

Perhaps most importantly, at the time of my arrest I was researching an article about Jessica Garrison's ties to an individual who allegedly was involved in an activity that is extremely sensitive in college-athletics circles. As the No. 1 financial supporter of Crimson Tide athletics, and one of the most powerful boosters in college athletics, Bryant likely was concerned about my reporting efforts (which are ongoing, by the way).

How close does the trail of this unsavory activity get to Bryant? We aren't sure--yet--but the trail clearly leads through Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which is Bryant's home base.

Why was I unlawfully thrown in jail, losing my freedom for five months, and who was responsible for it? I suspect there were multiple reasons I was targeted--multiple stories I was working on that made powerful figures nervous and angry.

But Claud Neilson and Bill Baxley clearly were central players in the scheme, and they have connections that span more than four decades. Baxley and Bryant Jr. have connections that span at least that long, maybe longer.

As a side note, a source close to the Baxley family tells us the one-time gubernatorial candidate and legal maverick has been seriously compromised by photographic evidence of certain activities that took place during a Las Vegas trip that involved heavy drinking and gambling. In essence, our source says, powerful interests have kept copies of said photographic evidence for several years as a way of keeping "Dollar Bill" in line.

That might explain why Baxley, a Democrat in theory, now is quick to jump in the legal bed with such corporate, right-wing types as Rob Riley, Jessica Medeiros Garrison, Sonny Reagan, and Luther Strange. (That, too, is a story where our research is ongoing and might soon yield explosive results.)

As for Bryant Jr., evidence suggests his already privileged life might have been a bit more comfortable with the demise of Legal Schnauzer. Is that why the blog's publisher wound up in jail--and did Bryant Jr. enlist the help of Baxley and Neilson to make sure it happened?

We are continuing to examine that question--and it appears we are getting closer and closer to an answer.





Monday, August 17, 2015

Alabama's David Gespass proves that engaging in double talk makes him feel like a natural lawyer


David Gespass
Alabama attorney David Gespass told Peter B. Collins' radio audience in an October 29, 2013, interview that the preliminary injunction issued in the Rob Riley and Liberty Duke defamation lawsuit was "insane." In a letter to my wife, Carol, and me--dated two days later--Gespass said the judge's actions were "questionable."

On the Collins show, Gespass also questioned the actions of a Shelby County deputy who entered our home, beat me up, and doused me with pepper spray--all without showing a warrant, saying he had a warrant, or bothering to tell me why he was on our property. In his letter to Carol and me, Gespass made no mention of law-enforcement officers and their apparent misdeeds.

Why the remarkable difference in tones? I have my own theories about that, but we invite you to come to your own conclusions. Following are excerpts from the Collins interview, and the letter can be viewed at this link, plus it is embedded at the end of this post. The full Collins interview can be heard here.

The oddities start right up front in the Collins interview. Gespass says Circuit Judge Claud D. Neilson used the wrong standard in finding that my reporting was defamatory. Don't you think that might have been of interest to potential clients? Gespass never mentioned it to Carol and me.

Gespass actually talks on the Collins show like a legitimate lawyer, one who is alarmed about what has been done to a journalist in his community, and he raises a number of important legal issues. Here's the question: Why didn't he communicate in the same fashion with us? He spent much of his two jailhouse visits with me tossing a pencil up in the air and catching it, like a third grader. Given that, and the tone of the letter he sent between visits, is it any wonder I eventually told him to get the hell out and don't come back?

The Collins interview proves that Gespass isn't stupid; in my view, he just wasn't being forthright with us--and the obvious question is: Why? Here are highlights from the Gespass interview with Peter B. Collins:

The public-figure standard--"Rob Riley is a public figure, which means to prove defamation, you have to prove not only that the statement is false, but it was made with knowledge of its falsity. The idea of a preliminary injunction telling somebody they can’t publish defamatory statements in the future--and that's what this injunction does--is insane; it’s clearly unconstitutional."

The actual law that governs defamation cases--"If you say something that’s defamatory, you can be sued for it and get money damages. It's possible at the end--and this is a matter of some debate--that after a finding of defamation you conceivably could get an injunction from repeating the specific statements that were found to be false. In this case, if Riley and Duke are able to prove they never did have an affair, to the satisfaction of a jury, then I think it would be within the bounds of reasonableness to say to Roger, "You can’t make these allegations." Even then, if you get further information, even that may change. (Notice that Gespass references a jury trial; he never made such a reference to us. His emphasis was to get the matter "resolved as quickly as possible.")

An injunction pulled from thin air--"Riley got an injunction issued without Roger appearing in court to respond, and that is unheard of. There is no legal justification that I know of to get an injunction without a full hearing on the merits—and that’s never taken place here." (Why did Carol and I not appear in court? Gespass' letter explains it. He says, after reviewing the sealed record, that we never were served in the case, and no summons was issued until long after Neilson had granted the preliminary injunction. In other words, we didn't go to court because we weren't lawfully summoned to court.)

Why was the case sealed?--"I can’t even go online to get the documents. I understand they are pretty voluminous. I’ve been in touch with Riley’s lawyer, and he’s going to send them, but he said there is more than he can send by e-mail. Why the case is sealed is beyond me. It's quite unusual. In general, that happens when you have something that involves a juvenile. I had a case where a 13-year-old boy charged abuse against a police officer. All we had there was the boy's name was redacted. But sealing an entire file is extremely rare."

Why would plaintiffs want a defamation case sealed?--"By filing suit, it calls more attention to it than it otherwise would have. It seems odd, under those circumstances, that plaintiffs would want the case sealed. If they want to prove the allegations are false, you’d think they would want to do it publicly. If you file suit for defamation, as a public figure, you want to make it a public issue."

How was I supposed to get out of jail?--"This is really bizarre. There are two kinds of contempt—civil and criminal. Civil usually is if you have to pay child support. It's coercive, as opposed to punishment. Once you do what you are supposed to do, you get out of jail. Criminal contempt is punishment, and there are limits to how long you can be placed in jail. I have no idea which it is, and [Roger] has been given no indication of what he has to do to purge the contempt--and no idea how long he's going to be in there. . . . He's sitting there with no idea when he will get out and no idea what he has to do in order to get out. That doesn't make any sense."

Did I "ignore a court order"? No--"Roger actually filed a motion to quash, so he entered an appearance. I don’t know if he was ever served with the injunction; he might have been served with the temporary restraining order. (The sealed file, according to Gespass, shows we were served with neither.) Judges are supposed to give pro se litigants leeway because they are not trained in the law . . . and all of this was done when [Roger] didn't have a lawyer to represent him and without him ever having actually appeared in court."

What about cops entering our house with no reference to a warrant?--"My assumption is that there was a pickup order based on contempt. The question there is, they went into his house uninvited. If they have a pickup order, and they see him there, they probably have a right to be there. But I think they have some responsibility to tell him the reason they want him and why he’s being taken into custody."

What were our legal options?--"The first option probably would be a motion to set aside the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on the grounds that they are unconstitutional-- and get his immediate release based on that. The other possible course of action would be some sort of extraordinary writ to the [Alabama] Supreme Court . . . , asking them to order the lower court to set aside the injunction and release him. Unfortunately, that will take some time to figure out, which is the best and the quickest way to do it. . . . It's not inconceivable that this would go into federal court, but federal courts don't like to involve themselves in state-court issues, so you would want to get as full a record as possible before going there. I would hope that would not necessary."

Did Judge Neilson abuse his discretion?--"The standard for criminal contempt is five days in jail, and with two counts, that conceivably could be 10 days. The standard for civil contempt is that the order must set out specifically what you must do to purge yourself of contempt. Since no one has seen the order, I'm not sure there is anything that says that. You can ask a judge to reconsider something that is, on its face, so completely contrary to principles of free speech. This is, after all, the First Amendment."

Why did David Gespass say one thing on the Peter B. Collins Show and something very different to his would-be clients? The answer is clear to me: Collins is based in San Francisco, and his show has a solid national and international following among progressives, so Gespass wanted to sound to that audience like an intelligent, informed lawyer, one concerned about constitutional rights. But behind closed doors, his instinct was to protect the legal tribe--probably because he knows that's what the hopelessly corrupt Alabama State Bar expects its members to do.