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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CBS Evening News receives a boost from Legal Schnauzer in report on wife-beating judge Mark Fuller


The most trusted organization in broadcast journalism produced a report last night on Mark Fuller, the Alabama federal judge who was charged in August with beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room. CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley relied in part on nontraditional news sources in preparing the Fuller story.

How do we know? Legal Schnauzer was one of those sources. It's a classic example of how news gathering has changed, with the online press taking on more and more of a trusted role. It also is an example of a story that probably never would have reached the attention of CBS News, without aggressive reporting from nontraditional sources in the early stages.

The CBS piece, dated October 28, 2014, is titled "Ala. judge's spousal abuse case has some seeking his resignation."

Bianca Brosh, an assistant producer for CBS News, contacted me on October 14, and I posted that day on my Facebook page that a story about the Fuller case was in the works at the network. Brosh specifically asked about using a photography of Fuller, taken by Phil Fleming of Montgomery, Alabama, that had run on my blog.

Blog statistics for Legal Schnauzer showed several visits from CBS Evening News to research our posts on the Fuller story. I'm guessing the network also checked out the reporting of Alabama attorney Donald Watkins, who has produced a number of important stories on his Facebook page about the Fuller case.

From the CBS story, written by Vicente Arenas:

Outrage over domestic violence reached a new high after revelations involving NFL players. Now, public condemnation is expanding with a call for justice involving a federal judge.

Mark Fuller of Alabama may have his criminal record cleared, despite evidence on a disturbing tape. . . .

The caller is the wife of Mark Fuller, a prominent federal judge who has presided over some of Alabama's biggest cases.

Prosecutors filed a misdemeanor battery charge against Fuller. But the case did not come to national attention until the video surfaced of NFL star Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee, later wife, Janay in a casino hotel elevator.

Now Fuller has been relieved of all his pending cases, and there are calls for his resignation.

As we noted in a recent post, the nontraditional press has done most of the heavy lifting on the Fuller story. But it's gratifying to see CBS News step into the fray, adding its substantial clout to a story that now is national and international in scope.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Could Jessica Medeiros Garrison's sealed divorce file help shine light on "secrets" in State House probe?


Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange
Could the divorce file of Republican operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison contain information that might be pertinent to the ongoing grand-jury investigation in Lee County? That question has particular resonance as the first trial from the Lee County probe unfolds this week.

Based on at least one published report, the answer to the Garrison question seems to be yes--and that's because of an alleged "secret" involving the attorney general's office, which is conducting the Lee County probe.

Why then has the Garrison file remained sealed, even now that the divorce file of U.S. Judge Mark Fuller has been ordered unsealed in the wake of charges that he beat his wife in an Atlanta hotel room? The recent ruling on the Fuller matter indicates there are no lawful grounds for the Garrison file to remain outside of public view. That is especially the case with the possibility that the file contains information connected to the State House criminal investigation involving Speaker Mike Hubbard and other members of the GOP.

The trial of State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) is going on this week in Opelika. It is the first trial to grow from the Lee County investigation, and Moore faces charges of lying to the grand jury and making false statements to prosecutors.

How could the Garrison divorce case have ties to a criminal matter? An August 18 article by Bill Britt at Alabama Political Reporter (APR) shines light on that question.

Britt reports that Kevin Turner, chief deputy to Attorney General Luther Strange, has tried to derail the Lee County investigation by having Special Prosecutor Matt Hart removed from the case. Turner filed what Britt describes as a "bogus" personal complaint in order to have Hart fired or removed from the white-collar crime division. The actions in Britt's report, if proven, come close to the definition of obstruction of justice (in federal law enforcement) or obstructing governmental services (at the state level).

What would cause Kevin Turner to be so bold, desperate, and perhaps stupid? Britt suggests it's because Turner holds a "secret" over his boss' head. From the Britt article:

Inside the Attorney General’s Office, the effort to sabotage the Grand Jury, by eliminating Hart, is thought to be the work of Strange’s closest ally, Turner.

The seemly unbreakable bond between Strange and Turner is rumored to be based on more scandalous motives, and not mere loyalty. As Strange’s driver and body man during the 2010 campaign for AG, there is speculation that Turner holds a dirty secret over his boss' head. Whatever the reason may be for Strange’s particular loyalty to Turner, there are more than a few questions raised by Turner’s recent actions against Hart.

Where does Jessica Medeiros Garrison fit into this picture? She managed Luther Strange's 2010 campaign, which would have more or less made her Kevin Turner's supervisor at the time. Any "dirty secret" that Kevin Turner has on Luther Strange, probably would be known to Garrison.

What's the nature of this secret? Is it personal, professional, political, financial--a combination of all the above? We don't know, but Garrison's divorce case ended in October 2009, and a related child-custody case went into 2011--all in the general time frame of the 2010 campaign for attorney general.

Could the sealed Garrison divorce file include information about the secret? It certainly could, and if so, that means it's relevant to the Lee County investigation--and Kevin Turner's actions that appear to be unethical (at best) and maybe criminal (at worst).

While citizens await news of more possible arrests in the Lee County case,  they should demand that Jessica Medeiros Garrison's divorce file be unsealed.

One member of the AG's staff, Sonny Reagan, already faces disciplinary action for allegedly leaking grand-jury information. Perhaps Kevin Turner's actions merit disciplinary action, as well.

Monday, October 27, 2014

UK publication shines international light on Legal Schnauzer and the fight against corruption in Alabama


Graphic from International
Business Times
I am featured, along with international figures Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, in a UK news site's article about freedom of information via the Internet.

The article, from the UK edition of International Business Times (IBT) is titled "Seven Controversial Figures of Internet Freedom: Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and More." One of the figures under the heading of "More" is yours truly.

Ironically, the article appears as we marked the first anniversary last Thursday of my unlawful arrest in Shelby County, Alabama, making me the only journalist in the western hemisphere to be incarcerated in 2013. More importantly, the recognition comes as we finally are seeing signs of progress against corruption in Alabama, thanks to an ongoing grand-jury investigation in Lee County.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was indicted last week on 23 felony counts of using his public office for personal gain. State Rep. Barry Moore (R-Enterprise) goes on trial today on charges of perjury and making false statements.

Court documents indicate prosecutors are aiming even higher, targeting the Riley political machine headed by former GOP governor Bob Riley (2002-2010) and two of his children--Birmingham attorneys Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell. Hubbard is a long-time Riley ally, and the Hubbard indictment includes counts that involve Bob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell. Published reports have shown that Rob Riley was involved with Hubbard in funneling $100,000 in Poarch Creek Indian gaming money to Citizens for a Better Alabama, a group supposedly opposed to gaming.

Rob Riley orchestrated my arrest by filing a lawsuit that bore no resemblance to a standard defamation claim. It clearly was designed to have me jailed because I was a Web-based journalist that the family machine could not control. In fact, another member of the Riley machine, State Sen. Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), has filed what appears to be a dubious defamation lawsuit against another Web-based journalism site, Alabama Political Reporter.

Julian Assange
Have defamation lawsuits become Team Riley's weapon of choice in an effort to freeze unwelcome Web-based reporting? The answer appears to be yes, and the international press is paying attention.

IBT is based in New York City's Financial District and has 10 national editions, in seven languages. Launched in 2005, it is ranked by Alexa as the fourth most visited site among business newspapers.

The piece on internet freedom includes an article by India-based reporter Jerin Mathew, plus an infographic spotlighting each of the seven featured individuals (see link below). Writes Mathew:

The internet is currently a crucial medium of communication. It is being used by people to express their ideas to an audience spread across the globe.

However, certain authoritarian states have introduced measures to filter, monitor and manipulate the internet, as they fear the power of new technologies. Activists have successfully used the medium to advocate political, social and economic reform and mobilise people for the cause.

Certain people have come out to question governments' interference in the cyber world and their snooping on the online activities of people. Some people say they are heroes of democracy, while some others label them as enemies of state security.

7 Controversial Figures of Internet Freedom: International Business Times 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One year ago today, Alabama's Riley Machine caused me to be unlawfully beaten and arrested in my home


Rob Riley
Today marks one year since I was beaten inside my own home, Maced in the face, dragged out of my home, dumped in the backseat of a squad car, and incarcerated in an Alabama jail for five months--all because I write this blog about judicial and political wrongdoing, in a state that ranks No. 6 for corruption, according to a recent survey.

Ironically, the first anniversary of my arrest comes during the same week that House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), a prominent member of the Riley Political Machine, was arrested on corruption charges. According to published reports, the Riley Machine could be dismantled when the Lee County criminal probe and its aftermath are completed.

According to the indictment against Hubbard, former Governor Bob Riley and his daughter, Minda Riley Campbell, are among a number of prominent political and business figures to cut apparently corrupt deals that allowed Hubbard to use his public office for personal gain. Published reports have shown that Rob Riley, the former governor's son, was involved with Hubbard in funneling $100,000 in Poarch Creek Indian gaming money to Citizens for a Better Alabama, a group supposedly opposed to gaming.

Where's the irony? Rob Riley clearly orchestrated my arrest, and now we know that one of his closest allies, Mike Hubbard, faces 23 counts of criminally abusing the public trust.

My arrest and incarceration, which analysts from both the left and right have said runs contrary to more than 200 years of First Amendment law, grew from a defamation lawsuit that Rob Riley filed against me. It caused me to be the only journalist in the western hemisphere to be incarcerated in 2013. God only knows how many years it's been since a journalist has been arrested under similar circumstances in the United States. I'm doubtful that it ever has happened before.

As we showed in a recent post, Riley's lawsuit bore no resemblance to a standard defamation lawsuit, for at least three major reasons:

Mike Hubbard's mugshot
* Riley sought both a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, but a foundational U.S. Supreme Court decision from 1931 says both represent unlawful prior restraints under the First Amendment. A 2012 case from Virginia drives home the same point.

* Riley did not seek a trial, but U.S. Supreme Court precedent holds defamation only can be found after a full adjudication on the merits. A 2007 California case spells out that principle in considerable detail.

* Riley did not seek a jury to hear his case, but longstanding law holds that defamation and other First Amendment matters must be heard by a jury. Otherwise, a single judge could impose censorship without a full hearing on the matter.

If Rob Riley's lawsuit was not about defamation, what was it about? I would suggest it was about intimidation of an online journalist the Riley Machine could not control. In the process, Team Riley engaged in gross civil wrongs and might well have stepped into criminal territory.

What specifically drove Rob Riley to file his lawsuit, and what was the real motivation behind it?

We will be addressing those questions, and more, in upcoming posts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hubbard seems to be clueless or deceitful with PR blitz in the wake of his indictment on corruption charges


Mike Hubbard mugshot
Indicted Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) has said he's done nothing wrong during his time as a public official. In a press conference yesterday, Hubbard said the attorney general's office is trying to make it a crime to own a business while serving in a public capacity.

Those two comments indicate Hubbard is clueless about the legal challenges he faces--or he intentionally is trying to deceive the public.

The issue in any criminal case is not whether the accused thinks he has done something wrong; it's whether he has violated the law.

In Hubbard's defense, white-collar statutes often are written in such a murky fashion that hardly anyone can tell the difference between legal and illegal conduct. I challenge anyone to read 18 U.S. Code 666, which governed much of the Don Siegelman prosecution, and figure out what it means. Documents in that case indicate lawyers on both sides gave up on trying to figure out what the statute means and focused instead on case law.

How many public officials are going to look up case law to determine if they have stepped into criminal territory? Answer: very few.

The "I didn't know the law" excuse doesn't work, however, for Hubbard. The indictment primarily cites Code of Alabama 36-25-5(a), and it's language is not hard to decipher:

Section 36-25-5

Use of official position or office for personal gain.

(a) No public official or public employee shall use or cause to be used his or her official position or office to obtain personal gain for himself or herself, or family member of the public employee or family member of the public official, or any business with which the person is associated unless the use and gain are otherwise specifically authorized by law. Personal gain is achieved when the public official, public employee, or a family member thereof receives, obtains, exerts control over, or otherwise converts to personal use the object constituting such personal gain.

As white-collar statutes go, that is a paragon of clarity--and Hubbard had every reason to know what it says.

That's what makes the following remark from Hubbard, as reported by the Montgomery Advertiser, so disingenuous:

The Auburn Republican said he was being targeted for "shaking up the status quo" in state government after winning control of the Legislature in 2010, and angering those "who liked things as they are."

"Why does the Attorney General's Office think it's a crime to own a business?" Hubbard said during the press conference. "And think it's a crime to do business with anyone you didn't know before you were elected to office?"

The indictment makes no such claim. In count after count, the indictment says Hubbard used his office for personal gain, via his various business interests. And that, if proven in court, is a violation of the law.

Hubbard has given every indication that he intends to fight the charges, and he and high-priced lawyer Mark White might figure out a way to coax a not-guilty verdict from an Alabama jury.

But for now, Hubbard gives the impression of a man who does not understand the charges against him--and who doesn't understand how much trouble he might be in.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Mike Hubbard represents the tip of a corrupt iceberg that remains anchored in Alabama's political waters


Mike Hubbard's mugshot
Does yesterday's indictment and arrest of House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) mean Alabama soon will lose its place among the 10 most corrupt states in the country?

Don't bet on it.

Alabama was the No. 6 most corrupt state in a recent Fortune magazine ranking and probably deserved to be No.1, thanks to our tendency to elect self-serving "leaders" like Hubbard.

Hubbard is a major public figure, and if he is convicted, it would represent a rare instance of a white, conservative Republican being held accountable for his misdeeds. That hardly has ever happened since Karl Rove arrived on the Alabama political scene in 1994, followed a few years later by Jack Abramoff and millions of dollars in Mississippi gaming cash.

Rove and Abramoff helped lay the foundation for the Riley Machine, led by former Governor Bob Riley (2002-2010) and driven largely by his children, Birmingham lawyers Rob Riley and Minda Riley Campbell.

Without the support of Team Riley, Hubbard probably never would have risen to political heights. One publication recently called Hubbard "Riley's second son." Hubbard even named one of his son's "Riley," in honor of the former governor.

Yesterday's indictment provides details about deals Hubbard tried to make with several members of the Riley Machine--including Bob Riley, Minda Riley Campbell, and political consultant Dax Swatek. According to a report at al.com, most of those approached gave Hubbard what he wanted. From Mike Cason's article:

According to the indictment, Hubbard solicited favors from some of Alabama's rich and powerful. They include former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary, Hoar Construction CEO Rob Burton, Great Southern Wood CEO Jimmy Rane, former Sterne Agee CEO James Holbrook, lobbyist Minda Riley Campbell, Harbert Management Corp. vice president Will Brooke and political operative Dax Swatek.

Most gave Hubbard what he wanted, according to the indictment, including major investments into Hubbard's company, Craftmaster Printing.

That raises this question: Did most of these deals amount to illegal "quid pro quos," where there was an agreement for the giver to receive something in return for his gift? If so, both parties in the deals should be subject to prosecution, as happened in the case of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

That probably would be covered by federal bribery law (see 18 U.S. Code 666), but we do not know at this point if the U.S. Department of Justice is involved.

So far, Hubbard is the only major team member to have his mugshot taken. That means the question now about the Lee County grand jury is this: What's next?

If Mike Hubbard proves to be the "big fish" that was caught in the net, not much will have been accomplished. The real big fish--members of the Riley family--are still swimming in Alabama's murky political waters.

That's where the attention of law enforcement needs to turn next.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Now that Mark Fuller's divorce file has been unsealed, what about the case of Jessica Medeiros Garrison?


Jessica Medeiros Garrison, with Bill
Pryor and Jeff Sessions
An Alabama state judge has ruled that the divorce file of wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller should, for the most part, be unsealed. That's a step in the right direction, but Fuller hardly is the only white, conservative politico to have his divorce file kept from public view.

We know of at least one other such case, and it belongs to Jessica Medeiros Garrison, former campaign manager for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange.

In making her ruling last Friday, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Anita Kelly more or less confirmed there never were any lawful grounds for sealing Fuller's divorce case from his first wife. Fuller now stands charged with beating his second wife in an Atlanta hotel room back in August, drawing widespread calls for his resignation or impeachment.

If there were no lawful grounds for sealing the Fuller divorce case, that almost certainly is the case with Jessica Medeiros Garrison's divorce from Lee Garrison, a Tuscaloosa insurance man and chair of the city's school board.

The Garrisons were divorced in October 2009, and records from a subsequent custody action involving their son have remained public. Records from the divorce case itself were sealed, at Jessica Garrison's request, and the Fuller case now stands as evidence that the Garrison case almost certainly should have remained a public record.

Jessica Garrison is not a federal judge, but she is a prominent player in Alabama Republican politics. In addition to her ties to Luther Strange, she works for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) and holds a position with the corporate Balch and Bingham law firm of Birmingham. She also has worked for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions and U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor. She is president of something called the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which apparently is an extension of RAGA.

In his Facebook coverage of the Mark Fuller wife-beating case, attorney Donald Watkins has said Alabama is ruled by a white, Republican "oligarchy," whose members enjoy certain privileges that most citizens do not. One of the those privileges apparently involves the easy sealing of divorce files that might contain embarrassing or unpleasant information.

Mark Fuller clearly belongs to the oligarchy, and it appears Jessica Garrison holds a comfortable position there as well.

In 2012, a group of independent journalists (including me) moved the Montgomery circuit court to unseal the Fuller divorce file, and that request was denied. It wasn't until the mainstream al.com media conglomerate made a similar request last week that the court decided to pay attention and more or less follow the law.

If Mark Fuller's divorce file is fit for public consumption, surely the same applies to Jessica Medeiros Garrison. We challenge al.com to petition the Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court and demand that the case be unsealed.

The Garrison divorce documents are public records, and they should be treated as such.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

I Know All About The Kind Of Police Thuggishness That Led To Tragedy In Ferguson, Missouri


Famed academic Cornel West
is arrested in Ferguson, MO
Almost a year before Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, setting off a string of protests that continued over this past weekend, I had my own encounter with a thuggish cop.

Alabama law that is more than 100 years old says a warrant should be properly signed and executed. In my case, courtroom evidence shows there was no warrant at all.

My encounter with a rogue cop happened inside my own home. I don't think I even had a speeding ticket on my record when an Alabama deputy named Chris Blevins entered my home without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or that he intended to arrest me--and then proceeded to knock me down three times and spray me in the face with Mace.

What crime had I allegedly committed. None. An Alabama judge claimed I was in contempt of court, even though I had filed court papers showing I had not been lawfully served with papers in a lawsuit. That meant the court had no jurisdiction over me, and Officer Blevins had no grounds to be in my garage.

What about that case that dates back more than 100 years? It's from 1903 and is styled Oates v. Bullock, 136 Ala. 537, 33 So. 835. Oates is so old that we can't find the full case on the Web. But the gist of Oates can be found in a case styled Kelley v. State, 316 So. 2d 233 (1975), which is more or less from the modern era.

Kelley was about a search warrant, but the text makes it clear that the finding applies to arrest warrants--in fact, the Kelley opinion was based largely on a finding in Oates regarding an arrest warrant. Here is the key section from Kelley:

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

Returning to matters at hand, the Kelley court then stated the following about the search warrant before it:

Since the search warrant was not signed by the municipal judge, it is our opinion that it was void on its face and any search and seizure made thereunder was unauthorized and illegal.

If an arrest in 1903 was illegal because of an unsigned arrest warrant, it seems clear that a 2013 arrest would be illegal when courtroom evidence shows there was no warrant at all.

What can we learn from all of this? I would submit that all Americans should pay attention to events in Ferguson, Missouri. You never know when you might be victimized by a thuggish cop--and it could happen inside your own home.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller now faces scrutiny over procurement of prescription drugs


Donald Watkins
Federal judge Mark Fuller, who is charged with beating his wife in an Atlanta hotel room, now faces an independent investigation into the possibility that he illegally obtained prescription drugs.

That is from veteran Alabama lawyer and businessman Donald Watkins, via posts on his Facebook page. Watkins, chairman and CEO of Masada Resource Group LLC in Birmingham, says he has a team of investigators working on the Fuller story. The results of their work are "mind boggling," Watkins says, and he plans to develop a criminal case against Fuller and his drug supplier.

Watkins says his reporting on the Fuller case, plus his posts about an overtime-pay scandal involving Gov. Robert Bentley and a state trooper, have led to threats against his family.

Fuller's apparent abuse of prescription drugs was an issue in his 2012 divorce case. Watkins is taking a closer look at the issue, and this is from one of his recent posts:

While the Alabama Media Group is fighting to get access to Mark Fuller's sealed divorce records, and while the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is trying to determine whether Fuller beat his wife Kelli on August 9th, I am tracking down the person who supplied Fuller with illegal prescription drugs.

As I reported yesterday, we are making substantial progress with our ongoing Fuller investigation. The progress has been so good that I am starting to get threats to me and my family.

We are verifying the source and location of the drug supply. This investigation has taken us all of the way back to Fuller's hometown of Enterprise. The leads are pouring in to us now. They are appear to be very credible and corroborated by other independent evidence.

We are about to blow this Mark Fuller sex, illegal prescription drugs, alcohol abuse, and wife-beating scandal wide open. The truth about all of this is simply mind-boggling. Stay tuned.

How serious could this get? Watkins provides insight in a comment to his post:

Facebook friends, nobody is big enough to crush truth on a permanent basis. They can stall it momentarily, but they cannot suppress it forever. I may have found a possible second source for the illegal drugs. My team is on the case. This part of our investigation may be bigger than the wife-beating incident. Dispensing controlled substances/narcotics without a prescription is a criminal offense. Asking for these drugs on an illegal basis makes the person requesting the drugs equally guilty. I am working to develop a criminal case for knowingly participating in a scheme to acquire and use controlled substances/narcotics without a prescription.

Someone apparently is not thrilled with Watkins' investigative efforts. Reports Watkins, in a separate Facebook post:

At 9:50 p.m. EST Sunday night, I received a threat from someone on Facebook posing as "Gary Globalmiddleman". This person is not one of my Facebook friends. The threat came through my private message inbox feature. It stated, "worry about your own family. stop friending people just for shock value".

Judge Mark Fuller
(via Phil Fleming)
 I obviously struck a nerve with my posts yesterday. Based upon my investigative experience and the many death threats I have received during my 41-year legal career in Alabama, this particular threat came from either Robert Bentley's political camp, or one of Mark Fuller's die-hard supporters. For the past two months, I have placed both men under heightened scrutiny and what the public has seen is truly shocking and disgusting.

Watkins apparently has the resources to deal effectively with those who might issue threats:

My security team has locked the electronic footprint on this message. Whoever sent it to me overlooked one critical electronic tracer. We will identify, find, and deal with the person who made this threat.

For the record, I do not respond to threats. I work all over the globe, and some of my work is performed in really tough places. I have an excellent security team, including the best information technology experts on the planet. The question is not whether this person will be found, but when this event will occur.

Meanwhile, I will continue to report the truth about Bentley and Fuller. These men are twins of deception. I did not make these men do bad things. I only shined the spotlight on their despicable conduct. Whichever one of them authorized the threat against me and my family is a real criminal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The nontraditional press did all of the heavy lifting on the story of wife-beating federal judge Mark Fuller


Mark Fuller
Alabama's largest news organization is asking a state court to unseal a divorce file involving federal judge Mark Fuller, who is charged with beating his second wife in an Atlanta hotel room.

The file of Fuller's divorce from his first wife includes questions about domestic violence and drug abuse, al.com writes in an editorial, and that information should be available to Congress if it initiates impeachment proceedings against Fuller.

That's fine as far as it goes, but al.com leaves out a critical piece of information--it and other mainstream news outlets have done a miserable job of covering the Fuller story. In fact, nontraditional news sites, including our Legal Schnauzer blog, have done almost all of the heavy lifting.

Al.com, with its major operations in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville, now is taking the moral high road on the Fuller story. But when news of Fuller's divorce broke in 2012, al.com was nowhere to be found. We did a search at al.com on "Mark Fuller divorce 2012" and found nothing on the case. We did a search for Fuller's first wife, "Lisa Boyd Fuller," and found nothing other than a brief reference to her in the new editorial.

How late is al.com to the party? It isn't even the first news organization to ask for the divorce file to be unsealed. Andrew Kreig, director of the D.C.-based Justice Integrity Project, led an effort to do that in May 2012. Bob Martin, publisher of the Montgomery Independent, and I lent our support to Kreig's effort, and you can read the petition here. Montgomery County Circuit Judge Anita Kelly, to whom al.com now addresses its request, did not unseal the file then.

Consider these ironic words from al.com's editorial:

Court documents available before the record was sealed give us insight into what the record contains.

We know that Fuller's wife asked him to confirm or deny whether he had physically abused her.

We know that she subpoenaed records from at least six pharmacies, asking each of them to list what prescriptions they had filled for Fuller.

How does al.com know that? It's because of reporting from more than two years ago in the nontraditional press. Does al.com make any mention of that? Nope.

Bob Martin, of the Montgomery Independent, broke the divorce story in his weekly print publication on May 16, 2012. We picked up on the story at Legal Schnauzer the next day and wound up writing four posts on the subject. We also published five documents from the case file to the Scribd online document-sharing site, including documents that strongly hinted at domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse. (See the Request for Admissions at the end of this post.)

Three days after our first post, Fuller's lawyer moved for the file to be sealed, and the motion was granted--even though court files in Alabama generally are considered public records.

Al.com is correct to state that Fuller's 2012 divorce case shines important light on the charges the judge now faces. It also is correct to state that the divorce file should be made available to Congress in the event of impeachment proceedings. But al.com should be honest enough to admit that it did nothing to inform the public about ugliness in Mark Fuller's personal life when it had the chance in 2012.

Does the nontraditional press matter in the United States of 2014. The Mark Fuller story provides evidence that the answer is a resounding yes.