Leaderboard 728 X 90

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Donald Trump nominated a corrupt attorney general in Alabama's Jeff Sessions, but it turns out that Sessions is not corrupt enough for Trump's tastes

Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump
(From washingtonpost.com)
Donald Trump nominated one of the most corrupt individuals in public life to be U.S. attorney general, but we now learn that Jeff Sessions is not corrupt enough to suit Trump.

In an administration that has been filled with job-dropping moments, this one might have moved to the top of the list. From a CNN report, based on a Trump interview with The New York Times:

President Donald Trump said in an interview published Wednesday that he would not have chosen Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general had he known Sessions would recuse himself over matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump's remarks, in a 50-minute interview with The New York Times, represent an extraordinary rebuke from the President toward the nation's top law enforcement official who happens to be one of his earliest political allies.

"Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the President," Trump said, referring to himself. "How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.' It's extremely unfair -- and that's a mild word -- to the President."

We know Sessions has no problem taking corrupt actions. As U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, he made it a practice to prosecute political opponents. As Alabama attorney general, Sessions hired the nephew of a black federal judge to force the judge's recusal in a case where the AG's office was accused of gross prosecutorial misconduct. That move adds to Sessions' already dubious record on matters of race, and a federal court has described the hiring of an attorney simply to force a judge's recusal  as a "breach of ethics."

Trump now is having "buyer's remorse" about Sessions. It seems Trump didn't want an attorney general who merely was corrupt -- he wanted one who was really corrupt, one who would take unlawful steps to protect a crime-infested administration.

Has Trump forgotten that Sessions got caught lying in his confirmation hearings about meetings with Russian officials? Has Trump forgotten that Sessions' false answer to a question from U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) pretty much forced the AG to recuse himself from all matters connected to various investigations of Trump's ties to Russia? No, Trump has not forgotten; but he views the Sessions quagmire in his usual twisted, self-interested way. From CNN:

Before Trump had a lock on the Republican nomination last year, Sessions became the first sitting senator to back the real estate mogul's presidential bid.

But several months into the job, Trump's warm feelings for Sessions have clearly cooled. In the interview, Trump scolded Sessions for telling the Senate judiciary committee that he had not met with any Russians during the campaign. It was later revealed he had met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, at least two times.

Sessions later amended his testimony.

"Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers," the President said. "He gave some answers that were simple questions and should have been simple answers, but they weren't."

To have Donald Trump scold you for telling lies? That makes the mind swirl.

Trump's statements reveal a level of narcissism and dishonesty that is almost painful to contemplate. What do his statements suggest?

(1) That Trump knew an investigation was coming of his campaign's interactions with Russian interests;

(2) That Trump knew such an investigation could spell big trouble, so he needed someone to protect him and his inner circle;

(3) That Trump expected the AG to serve as his protector, not as "the people's lawyer."

(4) That Trump has no clue about the independence of the Department of Justice, that the DOJ is not supposed to take instructions from the White House on the handling of investigations or prosecutions.

Item No. 4 is particularly profound. In November 2016, the United States "elected" a man of commerce to be president, supposedly to "run the country like a business." We now are learning that such an outcome presents significant danger, especially when the businessman has no idea how government is supposed to work. From a February 2017 article on the subject at lawfareblog.com:

After Watergate, Jimmy Carter campaigned on the promise to establish "as far as constitutionally possible, an independent Department of Justice,” and in 1978 his attorney general, Griffin Bell, sought to make good on that pledge by instituting procedures to insulate the Justice Department from political pressures. But what became the customary rules governing interaction between the White House and Justice were relaxed most recently under the George W. Bush administration, in a set of episodes the administration came to regret. As recounted by Politico in January, Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, expanded the number of White House officials permitted to contact the Justice Department on non-national security members from four to 417; his second attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, further increased the number to 895 (according to findings by Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse, a former U.S. attorney). These changes ended in scandal: among other things, under Gonzalez, seven U.S. attorney generals were abruptly fired in 2006 for political reasons that, according to a subsequent report by the Justice Department Inspector General, "raised doubts about the integrity of Department prosecution decisions." Michael Mukasey reinstituted more traditional guidelines in 2007, and Eric Holder replaced them with his own substantively similar variant in 2009.

The heart of the [Holder] memo is a set of prescriptions limiting the Justice Department’s communications with the White House and Congress regarding pending or potential criminal or civil investigations or cases. The Department will advise the President on such investigations or cases “when—but only when—it is important for the performance of the President's duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.”

The lawfareblog.com author apparently could see that Trump's AG had a tough future ahead of him:

All of this suggests it may not be not enough for Attorney General Sessions to keep the 2009 policy guidance in place, or to issue his own—just as it wasn’t enough for him to assert at his confirmation hearings, as any Justice Department nominee must, that he intends to head an independent department capable of standing up to the President. If the White House persists in interfering with Justice Department strategy in general or investigations in particular, to maintain outside confidence in the Justice Department’s impartiality, it may be on Sessions to publicly—and as needed, repeatedly—reaffirm his Department’s continuing commitment to remaining “impartial and insulated from political influence.”

Jeff Sessions had every reason to know Trump is a blowhard -- and every reason to suspect Trump is a crook, especially when it comes to Russia. There was ample evidence of both, before and during the 2016 campaign. Since his lies to Congress were unveiled, Sessions probably has gone into "Dear God, please keep me out of prison" mode. In the meantime, Sessions is left to deal with a president who appears to be both ignorant and emotionally unhinged.

In short, Jeff Sessions is in a mess. But it's largely a mess of his own making.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Severed Penis Case" shows bogus lawsuits don't come just from scum like Bill Swatek; "reputable" lawyers, like Rob Riley and Jessica Garrison, bring them, too

Jessica Garrison and Luther Strange
The Case of the Severed Penis has taught us a legal principle that, on paper, should be of bedrock importance. In reality, lawyers of all stripes ignore the principle, and we've seen little sign that the Alabama State Bar makes it a priority to discipline those who violate it.

The principle is this: A lawyer should investigate a client's claims, making sure there is "good cause" to support them, before filing a complaint. A lawyer never should bring a lawsuit he knows is baseless.

What is the official wording of this principle. It can be found at Rule 3.1 Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct, which reads, in part:

In his representation of a client, a lawyer shall not file a suit, assert a position, conduct a defense, delay a trial, or take other action on behalf of the lawyer's client when the lawyer knows or when it is obvious that such action would serve merely to harass or maliciously injure another.

That sounds like a relatively simple rule to follow. But my wife, Carol, and I have been the targets of multiple lawsuits that were not based in truth and had no purpose but to maliciously injure us. In fact, they have maliciously injured us, costing us our home of 25 years in Birmingham, causing me to be unlawfully incarcerated for five months in Shelby County, causing us to be unlawfully evicted in Missouri (leading Carol to have her arm shattered by rogue cops and to be falsely arrested and imprisoned twice). I've reported on multiple other Alabama residents who have been the targets of bogus claims.

Pelham, Alabama, lawyer Bill Swatek was the first lawyer to target Carol and me, bringing a malicious-prosecution claim on behalf of Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor who had admitted to trespass, as charged, in a criminal proceeding. Perhaps that should not be a surprise, given that Swatek has been disciplined at least three times by the Alabama State Bar, including a suspension of his license for lying about hiding a tape recorder to capture "private" discussions of opposing counsel during depositions. That led to a criminal charge of perjury, for which Swatek was acquitted, even though tape-recorded evidence presented at trial showed he was guilty as charged.

Swatek is a proven dirt bag and a solo practitioner, so the public pretty much should expect sleazy acts from him. But Carol and I have been targeted for baseless lawsuits by attorneys who have been connected to sizable law firms, the type of practitioner one would expect to know better. We are talking about lawyers who are well known, attached to politicians who have held statewide office. Specifically, we are talking about Rob Riley (son of former Gov. Bob Riley), who now has his own Riley Jackson firm and used to work for Hare Wynn Newell and Newton. We're also talking about
Jessica Medeiros Garrison (one-time campaign manager and mistress for U.S. Sen. Luther Strange), who until May 2017, worked for Balch and Bingham.

I reported here at Legal Schnauzer that Rob Riley had an extramarital affair with lobbyist Liberty Duke, and Garrison had an extramarital affair with Strange. Both Rob Riley and Garrison sued me for defamation, but neither even attempted to prove my reporting was false. That's because my reporting was not false, and we have filed pending federal lawsuits -- Shuler v. Duke, et al and Shuler v. Garrison, et al -- that are designed to show that.

Did Riley or Garrison believe they had a legitimate defamation case against me? Their own actions suggest the answer is no. Let's look first at the Riley case; it's clear his goal was to have me falsely arrested and incarcerated, and his complaint had nothing to do with defamation:

* The normal remedy in a defamation case, by law, is to seek money damages. But Riley did not seek money damages, and none were issued in the case. Instead, Riley sought an improper equitable remedy -- a preliminary injunction that has been prohibited under more than 200 years of First Amendment law. The injunction was a set-up to cause my unlawful arrest -- a kidnapping, really, given that no warrant ever has appeared.

Rob and Bob Riley
* Under long-standing First Amendment law, a defamation claim must be determined at a jury trial. That's because the First Amendment holds an exalted place in American law, and the notion that a judge could act as a one-man censor at a bench trial is considered abhorrent.

* Central to a jury trial, of course, is discovery, which establishes the facts upon which the case is to be argued. Riley did not seek a trial, a jury trial, or discovery. Why is that? I can think of only one reason: He wasn't interested in proving defamation because he knew my reporting about his affair with Liberty Duke was not false. Discovery -- producing e-mails, text messages, phone records, etc. -- would have proven my reporting was on target. Rob Riley wanted no part of that process.

* Judge Claud Neilson, brought out of retirement to hear the case by special assignment, acted as a one-man censor -- declaring my reporting defamatory, even though he had no facts, via discovery, to support that finding. And it was a determination that only a jury, not a judge, could make. In fact, I had one hearing before Neilson, but there never was anything approaching a trial in the case.

* Neilson imposed monetary sanctions against me, acting pro se, in the amount of about $33,000. But Alabama law is clear that a self-represented party cannot be hit with sanctions or attorney fees. They have not, and will not be paid, because they are unlawful. Still, Liberty Duke used her portion of the bogus sanctions to place a lien on our Birmingham home. If Duke and her lawyer, Christina Crow, don't know that monetary sanctions cannot be imposed against a self-represented party . . . well, Liberty Duke should stay out of courtrooms and Ms. Crow should find another profession. In essence, Liberty Duke stole more than $7,000 of excess foreclosure funds that lawfully belonged to Carol and me. So far, Duke has gotten away with the theft, but we intend to make sure that changes. That is one of many issues raised in our pending federal lawsuit. Anyone thinking of doing business with Liberty Duke in her role as a lobbyist should know that we have indisputable facts that show she is a thief -- and that should cause a few second thoughts.

* Liberty Duke used her portion of the unlawful sanctions to have a bogus lien placed on our property. Duke and her lawyer, Christina Crow of Union Springs, had to know this was contrary to law. But did it serve to harass and maliciously injure Carol and me? It sure did -- cheating us out of more than $7,000 -- and inflicting such injury was the whole point of the Riley/Duke lawsuit.

What about the Garrison case? Well, it's every bit as bad:

* Garrison did not seek a jury trial -- at least not in her initial filing. In my response, I demanded a jury trial -- and Garrison lawyer Bill Baxley promptly responded with a motion that more or less said, "Oh yeah, we want a jury trial, too." The truth? Garrison, like Riley, never intended to have a trial (jury or otherwise), suggesting she knew my reporting was accurate.

* Evidence indicates Garrison was a key figure in our wrongful foreclosure, which forced us out of state (to Missouri), where I could not defend myself against her defamation claim, which wound up with a $3.5-million default judgment. That judgment is void, as a matter of law, because I never received notice of the default-judgment application or hearing. Garrison must like to catch fish in a barrel because she clearly likes to bring a bogus lawsuit and then help ensure the target can't defend himself. That kind of chicanery must give her a sense of "power." By the way, Riley's lawsuit that caused me to be unlawfully incarcerated for five months also played a key role in the loss of our home, suggesting that he and Garrison worked together on their little courtroom scams.

* Garrison likely never had any intention of having her case tried, but she did try it in the press. She arranged for an "as told to" article in Marie Claire, a women's fashion magazine published by Hearst Corp. The article only proved that Garrison can't keep her facts straight and defamed me in at least three ways: (1) Falsely claiming I had reported that Luther Strange was the biological father of Garrison's child; (2) Falsely claiming I had stalked Garrison; (3) Falsely claiming there was a trial in her underlying defamation case.

* Former State Rep. Lowell Barron has stated in a radio interview with Marcus Echols that Strange and Garrison had an extramarital affair and said it compromised Strange so badly that he could not do his job -- Alabama attorney general, at the time.

* Barron also shined light on why Garrison and Strange helped launch our wrongful foreclosure, forcing us out of state and making sure I would not receive notice of key events in the case. Strange tried to prosecute Barron for alleged violations of the state ethics law, but that changed when Barron filed a motion seeking to have Strange give testimony under oath. The judge had not ruled on the motion, but in the interim, Strange dropped the case. Said Barron, from an earlier post:

Luther Strange is so compromised that he cannot go after the governor. What happened in my case . . . my attorney asked the judge to allow us to get Luther Strange to testify in my case. The judge left that open and didn't rule on it. Once the judge didn't rule on whether we could put Luther Strange on the stand, my case went away.

Luther Strange cannot stand to be deposed or be put on the stand because his shenanigans with Ms. Garrison would come out in the open. This whole bunch is compromised. You can't have clean government when you are dirty.

* Has Jessica Garrison filed a defamation case against Lowell Barron? Nope. Why? Probably because she knows his statement is true, and truth is an absolute defense to a defamation case. Instead, Garrison made her social-media profile mostly go dark after a report that Strange was tied to the ongoing Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal. Why would Jessica Garrison go underground right now? Hmmm . . .

The Case of the Severed Penis teaches us that the Alabama State Bar is more likely to go after solo practitioners, or lawyers from small firms, while letting the big fish go free. But our experience shows that lawyers with histories of working at large firms -- like Rob Riley and Jessica Garrison -- can be every bit as dirty as the smaller guys.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Michael E. Stephens, one of the wealthiest and best-known subjects of our Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs reporting, has died at the age of 73

Michael E. Stephens
A subject of our reporting on the Ashley Madison scandal has died. To our knowledge, that's a first here at Legal Schnauzer.

Of the 36 individuals we have covered in our Ashley Madison (AM) series, we believe businessman Michael E. Stephens is the first to have died. We have focused on prominent corporate and professional types who also were paying customers at the notorious Canada-based Web site that promotes extramarital affairs.

We don't have a net worth for each of our AM subjects, but if we did, Stephens probably would rank near the top. He was a big-time business figure in Alabama for decades before spending his later years in Naples, Florida.

Stephens died on July 1 at age 73. No, his obituary did not mention his activities on Ashley Madison. But it did indicate that he had found happiness in his personal life -- and we hope that was the case.

Without question, Stephens had a golden touch as a businessman. Our original AM-related post about him, published on July 20, 2016, noted that he was the man behind one of the most expensive homes in Alabama. From that post:

Michael E. Stephens, former executive director of Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and founder of the Lakeshore Foundation, owns (or did own) the Resting S Ranch on Cahaba Valley Road (Highway 119) in North Shelby County. The 12,300-square-foot main house sits on 35 acres and is valued at $4.56 million. The entire 82-acre ranch had a list price of $11.65 million in 2011. The property has been on the market, but it's not clear from public records if it has sold.

Ironically, my wife, Carol, and I used to live just off Highway 119, too, about four miles east of Mr. Stephens' property, until corrupt political forces in Alabama swiped our home of 25 years out from under us, via a wrongful foreclosure. The houses in our neighborhood, Broken Bow South, were not quite as extravagant as Mr. Stephens' domicile (to put it mildly), but our house there fit us just right, we invested a lot of financial and sweat equity in it, we loved it, and to say we miss it would be putting it mildly.

We drove by Mr. Stephens' Resting S Ranch many times, although my memory is that you barely could catch a glimpse of the main house, which is way off the highway.

Resting S Ranch
Mr. Stephens apparently had an appreciation for finer things, and while our house was of modest size and scope, we worked our butts off to keep it looking nice -- and he probably would have understood how much we treasured it. It's the only house we ever owned and the only one we ever have wanted to own.

It still burns me that our house had begun to show wear and tear, thanks to the political forces connected to former Gov. Bob Riley and his son, Rob "Uday" Riley, who cheated me (UAB) and Carol (Infinity Insurance) out of our jobs. One of my No. 1 goals in life is to get our house back and make sure the SOBs who stole it from us are held accountable.

As for Michael E. Stephens, his life was not just about dollars and cents. There was an inspirational component to it, also. From his obituary:

Born in Selma, Alabama, Mr. Stephens moved to Birmingham in 1946. In 1970 he suffered a spinal cord injury from a diving accident. Although at the time he had already begun a successful career in the publishing industry, that injury, and the grueling recovery process, changed the focus of Stephens's life and ultimately had a profound impact on his personal, professional, civic and philanthropic activities. After intensive rehabilitation during which he learned to walk again, he returned to the University of Montevallo in 1973 to complete a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business. He then went on to earn a Masters of Science Degree from the School of Health Professions at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Mr. Stephens held a number of business interests, from publishing to banking, but he left his real mark on rehabilitation medicine. From his obituary:

Mr. Stephens became executive director of Lakeshore Hospital in 1975 when it was still a small rehabilitation facility. Based on his experience during rehabilitation he was determined to eliminate the fragmentation of services that often hampered the recovery of people with physical disabilities. During the next decade, he transformed Lakeshore Hospital into what Forbes magazine called "… a model laboratory for his ideas about rehabilitation." It was his creation of a disabled sports program at Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital which ultimately developed into the founding of Lakeshore Foundation in 1984. Mr. Stephens' progress with Lakeshore Hospital led to his founding of ReLife in 1986. As president and CEO, he guided the organization to national prominence as an effective, comprehensive rehabilitation system. At the time that ReLife merged with HealthSouth Corporation in 1994 the company had 46 rehabilitation facilities located in 12 states. Mr. Stephens' passion, the Lakeshore Foundation, is internationally known as a model organization for providing sports, recreation, fitness and research programs for those with physical disabilities. Because of this success, it was designated as an official US Olympic and Paralympic training site.

I don't think I ever met Mr. Stephens, and I certainly did not run in his financial circle, but our social circles intersected a bit. That's because, in my journalism career, I covered UAB Blazer athletics in various capacities from 1978 to 2008 and became friends with the late athletics director and Hall of Fame coach Gene Bartow. I recall that Coach Bartow mentioned Mr. Stephens several times, knew that he loved horses, and was thankful that Mr. Stephens had been a financial supporter of UAB athletics.

Gene Bartow was one of my favorite people on earth, so if he thought highly of Michael E. Stephens, I tended to think Mr. Stephens must be a pretty good guy, too.

As for Mr. Stephens' Ashley Madison activities, I tend to cut him slack there. I have no idea why he signed up a site that he probably knew was not worth his time. Maybe he just got bored one night -- rich people get bored, too, don't they? -- and put his name on an account that he figured would never see the light of day. On the personal front, we learn this about Mr. Stephens from his obit:

For many, Mike Stephens, became the role model, encourager, and inspiration for significant life changes. His wife, Allison, who he often called "My Angel", gave him a music box one year for his birthday. The music box played "The Wind Beneath My Wings"; on the inside, the inscription read "Mike, your life, your love and your friendship are special gifts, treasured by me and countless others. Thank you for providing the 'wind.' " Following his death, she said, "now Mike will forever be My Angel."

Life was not always a breeze for Mike Stephens. In addition to his spinal-cord injury, he was on the board of Superior Bank, which went through major turbulence in the 2000s and was closed by the FDIC in 2011. It became the first billion-dollar bank failure of 2011. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in 2016 filed fraud charges against 11 former executives of Superior Bank.

What role, if any, did Mike Stephens play in the failure of Superior Bank? That is not clear from published reports. This is from an article about his re-election to a one-year term on the board in 2006. It's not clear if Stephens was involved with the bank when it went into a nosedive:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., May 18 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- The Banc Corporation (Nasdaq: TBNC) announced today at its annual meeting that its shareholders have approved the change of its corporate name to Superior Bancorp and that it will begin trading under the NASDAQ symbol SUPR on May 19, 2006. In addition, Stan Bailey, Roger Barker, K. Earl Durden, Rick Gardner, Thomas Jernigan, Jr., James Mailon Kent, James M. Link, Barry Morton, Robert R. Parrish, Jr., Marvin Scott, Michael E. Stephens, James A. Taylor and James C. White, Sr. were re-elected to one year terms on Superior Bancorp's Board of Directors."

Public records indicate Stephens went through at least two divorces, but he seems to have found contentment in his later years.

In the end, Mike Stephens did a lot of good on this planet, and he touched a lot of people. Maybe that's because he came across as human -- the kind of guy who could make mistakes, like signing up for Ashley Madison, but bounce back from them. We'd say his was a life well lived.

Severity of Carol's injuries went way beyond broken bones, raising issues of shock, blood loss, nerve damage, kidney damage, elevated pressures, and more

Comminuted fracture of Carol
Shuler's left arm
How severe were Carol's injuries from our September 2015 eviction, when Missouri deputies body slammed her butt-first to the ground and yanked so viciously on her limbs that her left arm was broken just above the elbow, requiring trauma surgery? What kind of issues can crop up from a comminuted fracture -- a bone broken into three or more fragments -- of the sort Carol had? Did this put Carol's overall health at risk? Did it even put her life in danger?

We recently received Carol's medical records from Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, where her fracture was diagnosed and treated, and she underwent 4-5 months of physical and occupational therapy. (Portions of the records are embedded at the end of this post.) Let's see what those records tell us:

A "shattered" bone

I've used the term "shattered" to describe Carol's injuries here, based on a layman's examination of X-rays. I had no idea if that term actually fit, from a medical sense. It turns out that it does. This is from Carol's Outpatient Rehabilitation Intake Form, dated 10/28/15, roughly seven weeks after the injury and six weeks after surgery:

Purpose of Therapy: Recovery from ortho trauma surgery on shattered left elbow/arm and dislocation on 9/16. Need better ROM (range of motion) and function of arm to normal.

Using the term "shattered" to describe Carol's injuries was not an exaggeration. Members of her medical team used the same term.

A need for oxygen

Carol has reported receiving oxygen twice during the evening on the day she was injured -- once at Cox North and once at Cox South. Notes on the rehab intake form show that she was given oxygen twice on 9/9/15.

Why was Carol given oxygen, twice? We don't know for sure, but the most likely reason is that medical personnel saw signs that she was in danger of going into shock -- and shock, often triggered by blood loss, can kill people if not treated in a timely fashion.

Carol was not bleeding in an external way, one that could be seen. But when I saw her in the hospital, the morning after her injury, her right arm was purple from bruising, from shoulder to finger tip. And that was the unbroken arm. I can only imagine how bad bruising was on the broken arm, which was in a fiberglass splint.

Bruising occurs when blood gets trapped beneath the surface of the skin. This probably is what triggered the need for oxygen in Carol's case -- and concerns about shock.

More about blood loss

As a layman, I had not thought much about blood loss in Carol's case -- either due to the injury or surgery. An Operative Report from her medical records shows she had 150 ml of blood loss. That might be a normal amount due to surgery, but blood loss can be an issue with fractures themselves.

From a Web site about a lawyer who specializes in personal-injury cases that often involve fractures:

Bone is living tissue with its own blood supply. The soft inside center of bone (bone marrow) is where the body makes its blood cells. Between 10-15 million red blood cells are made every second in the bone marrow.

A lot of blood is found inside our bones, especially the long bones in our arms and legs. There are many arteries inside our bones which deliver blood to our bones from the arterial circulation originating from the heart. . . .

Since our bones, especially the long bones in our arms and legs, have a rich blood supply, a broken bone injury can result in excessive bleeding. For example, a bone fracture of the thigh bone (femur) can result in 1-2 liters of blood loss. Substantial bleeding from a bone fracture often causes the victim of a bone fracture injury to go into shock. (Again, this points to the need for oxygen in Carol's case).

The high energy forces from car, truck and motorcycle accidents often cause broken bone injuries where the bone is shattered into many pieces. This type of bone fracture is called a “comminuted fracture.” Shattered bone fragments often have sharp and pointed edges which can tear nearby blood vessels. The most frequent areas where blood vessels are damaged from shattered bone fragments are in the arms and legs.

A comminuted fracture, the kind Carol had, often tears nearby blood vessels? No wonder her medical team was concerned about oxygen, shock, and issues related to blood loss.

A matter of nerve

Carol's Operative Report indicates surgeon Brian Buck performed an "in situ ulnar nerve release" as part of the repair. This indicates Carol's ulnar nerve was damaged, or compressed, near the elbow. From a medical-journal article on the subject:

Ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow is the second most common compression neuropathy in the upper extremity following carpal tunnel syndrome . . .  with an estimated prevalence of 1% in the US population. . . .

Trauma and arthritis have both been implicated as causes for ulnar neuropathy. Nevertheless, the most frequent cause of cubital tunnel syndrome remains idiopathic. Multiple potential sites of compression exist along the path of the ulnar nerve.

Concerns about kidney damage

A Consultative Report by Dr. Brian Rekus indicates Carol had a number of elevated pressures -- blood pressure, thyroid, creatinine -- after surgery.  Rekus, an internist, was brought in to help manage those.

Elevated creatinine levels signify kidney disease or impaired kidney function. Carol's level was elevated at 1.53, and when checked a few days later, had decreased to 1.3.

The bottom line: Injuries that Missouri deputies inflicted upon Carol went way beyond the broken bones that look downright scary on an X-ray. It's really scary when you review her medical records and see that the severity of her injuries caused issues that, if not treated promptly and properly, could have put her overall health -- even her life -- at risk.

And yet, these same cops treat the matter so blithely that they created written narratives -- hinting that Carol broke her own arm by flailing about in the back seat of a patrol car -- that would have to improve to be absurd. This reflects the utter disregard and contempt too many cops have for the general public -- especially when everyday citizens become the victims of police brutality.

On top of that, cops generally have access to lawyers, who are more than happy to dump on abuse victims, trying to sell bogus law-enforcement stories that have little, or no, resemblance to the truth.

This post, along with the supporting documents below, shows just how badly Carol was injured -- and how easily her condition could have taken a turn in a dark direction. That cops would create written statements that they know are false shows how little they care about those they supposedly "serve and protect."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Parent company of Toronto-based Ashley Madison agrees to pay $11.2 million to customers whose personal info was exposed in 2015 data breach

(From trustify.info)
The parent company of the Ashley Madison (AM) extramarital-affairs Web site has announced it will pay $11.2 million to settle claims from customers whose personal details were revealed in a July 2015 data breach. We have written 37 posts about high-end professionals who were customers of the AM site, so news of a preliminary settlement hits close to home; to our knowledge, we are the only news site to report extensively on those who have used Ashley Madison.

We intend to continue our coverage well into the future. The consolidated federal litigation, based in St. Louis, Missouri, might be drawing to a close -- although it still must be approved by a judge. But Ashley Madison still is doing business -- and the social, psychological, and familial ramifications raised by the breach will be ongoing, likely for years.

The settlement story has another Alabama angle to it. One of the three primary law firms representing plaintiffs in the case is Birmingham's Heninger Garrison Davis LLC.

From a CNBC report about the preliminary settlement, which was announced last Friday:

The owner of the Ashley Madison adultery website said on Friday it will pay $11.2 million to settle U.S. litigation brought on behalf of roughly 37 million users whose personal details were exposed in a July 2015 data breach.

Ruby Corp, formerly known as Avid Life Media Inc, denied wrongdoing in agreeing to the preliminary class-action settlement, which requires approval by a federal judge in St. Louis.

Ashley Madison marketed itself as a means to help people, primarily men, cheat on their spouses, and was known for its slogan "Life is short. Have an affair."

But the breach cost privately held Ruby more than a quarter of its revenue, and prompted the Toronto-based company to spend millions of dollars to improve security and user privacy.

The hits Ashley Madison has taken go beyond federal litigation in St. Louis. From CNBC:

Last December, Ruby agreed to pay $1.66 million to settle a probe by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and several states into lax data security and deceptive practices, also without admitting liability.

As for the settlement, users can recover up to $3,500, but it sounds like the process to collect will be cumbersome. Lawyers -- surprise, surprise -- likely will be the financial winners in the whole deal:

Steve Heninger
(From twitter.com)
According to Friday's settlement, users with valid claims can recoup up to $3,500 depending on how well they can document their losses attributable to the breach.

Layn Phillips, a former federal judge who mediated the settlement, said in a court filing that the accord offered "a valuable recovery for the class in the face of many obstacles," including Ruby's preference that victims arbitrate their claims.

Lawyers for Ashley Madison users may receive up to one-third of the $11.2 million payout to cover legal fees, court papers show.

Does anyone seriously believe a shabby outfit like Ashley Madison is going to provide customers with genuine security? I don't, and I would not be surprised if there is another data hack -- probably inside of a year. Anyone dumb enough to still be using the site likely deserves whatever might be coming down the road. That the company refuses to admit wrongdoing suggests -- at least to me -- that it isn't serious about data security. Also, the company's press release about the settlement includes language that points to major ass covering -- still. Consider these words:

While ruby denies any wrongdoing, the parties have agreed to the proposed settlement in order to avoid the uncertainty, expense, and inconvenience associated with continued litigation, and believe that the proposed settlement agreement is in the best interest of ruby and its customers. In 2015, hackers gained access to ruby's computer networks and published certain personal information contained in Ashley Madison accounts. Account credentials were not verified for accuracy during this time frame and accounts may have been created using other individuals' information. Therefore, ruby wishes to clarify that merely because a person's name or other information appears to have been released in the data breach does not mean that person actually was a member of Ashley Madison.

If a mechanic quoted the automotive equivalent of such words to you, would you want to do business with him? Would you want him anywhere near the engine compartment under the hood of your car? I sure as hell wouldn't. As for Birmingham connections, this is from the first paragraph of the Ruby Corp. release:

TORONTO, July 14, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Ruby Corp. and Ruby Life Inc. (ruby), and a proposed class of plaintiffs, co-led by Dowd and Dowd, P.C., The Driscoll Firm, P.C., and Heninger Garrison Davis, LLC, have reached a proposed settlement agreement resolving the class action lawsuits that were filed beginning July 2015 following a data breach of ruby's computer network and subsequent release of certain personal information of customers of Ashley Madison, an online dating website owned and operated by Ruby Life Inc. (formerly Avid Dating Life Inc.) The lawsuits, alleging inadequate data security practices and misrepresentations regarding Ashley Madison, have been consolidated in a multi-district litigation pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Yep, Heninger Garrison Davis, on 1st Avenue North in downtown Birmingham, has been in the middle of the Ashley Madison story for some time. It apparently will be involved in the process of doling out cash for AM customers who can prove they have a legitimate claim.

Medical records reveal that Carol's injuries were not consistent with the bogus story Missouri deputies concocted to cover their asses in case of police brutality

X-rays of the comminuted fracture in
Carol Shuler's arm, showing it broke
into more than two pieces.
Missouri deputies apparently did not consider the nature of Carol's injuries before concocting their tale that suggests she broke her own arm by flailing about in the back seat of a squad car after being handcuffed and arrested during our unlawful eviction in September 2015. Carol's injuries are not consistent with the deputies' written statements, which they apparently were not smart enough to consider before putting their bogus accounts on paper.

We've already shown that Carol was seat-belted and restrained in the patrol car, so she was not able to flail about. But even if she had, her injuries are not consistent with any form of self abuse. They are consistent with trauma, and that's why they required trauma surgery (not orthopedic surgery) for repair.

We recently obtained a copy of Carol's records from Cox Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, where her broken arm was diagnosed and treated. An individual who is knowledgeable about such cases instructed us to look for any notations about a "spiral" fracture, which involves a twisting action and could not be caused by bumping about in a vehicle. It turns out that Carol's records show her injuries were significantly worse than a spiral fracture. (A document from her medical records is embedded at the end of this post.)

Here are findings from an exam at 5:25 p.m. on 9/9/15, the date of our eviction and Carol's injuries. Dr. Jock D. Porter ordered the X-rays, with interpretation from Dr. Kan Ying:

Bones: A large comminuted fracture involving the distal humeral metaphysis. The distal fracture is displaced medially for about 3.5 cm and posteriorly for about 6 mm. There could also be overlapping between proximal and distal fragements for about 15 mm.

These are not words you want to see on your medical chart. They mean your arm has met with violence of a traumatic nature. Consider the definition of a "comminuted fracture:"

A comminuted fracture is a break or splinter of the bone into more than two fragments. Since considerable force and energy is required to fragment bone, fractures of this degree occur after high-impact trauma such as in vehicular accidents.

External fixation devices such as splints and casts are usually inadequate in treating this type of fracture. Repairing a comminuted fracture often requires open surgery to restructure the bone to normal anatomy.

In a spiral fracture, the bone is broken into two or fewer pieces, and surgery usually is not required:

You may develop a spiral fracture pattern in the humerus due to some twisting injuries. You develop it in the shaft of the humerus when you lock your lower arm or have it trapped in machinery while the body rotates. Similarly, direct twisting forces applied during arm wrestling or throwing may also cause a spiral fracture in humerus.

Into how many pieces did Carol's arm break? We have posted X-rays that show at least three distinct pieces. Members of her treatment team told us her injury involved a pulverizing action that left a large number of tiny bone fragments. Some of these were preserved and put back into place for healing, others had to be washed away. It's likely that Carol's bone broke into several dozen pieces; we just don't know. We do know that it was much worse than a spiral fracture.

We also know this type of injury is not seen very often. People hurt themselves from banging into stuff all the time. They don't hurt themselves this way very often; this kind of injury is inflicted upon them:

Distal humerus fractures are uncommon; they account for just about 2 percent of all adult fractures. They can occur on their own, with no other injuries, but can also be a part of a more complex elbow injury.

A "more complex elbow injury?" Yes, the kind where a thuggish cop almost rips your arm off at the elbow -- and then his colleagues lie about it.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

With questions about DOJ settlement in Russian money-laundering case, plus release of his lies on security form, Jeff Sessions sinks deeper into muck

Jeff Sessions
(From businessinsider.com)
Jeff Sessions might soon be wishing he had never left Alabama. That's because, as Trump attorney general, Sessions keeps sinking deeper and deeper into RussiaGate.

When we read about Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, which pretty much prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, our first thought was, "Jeff Sessions has to be tied to this somehow." And now, it looks like he is.

House Democrats have written a letter to Sessions, seeking details about a Department of Justice (DOJ) settlement in a money-laundering case involving a real-estate concern represented by . . . Natalia Veselnitskaya, the same lawyer who met with Trump Jr. in June 2016.

On top of that, the DOJ has released a portion of Sessions' background-check questionnaire, where he did not report meetings with a Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals. In short, the nation's top law-enforcement officer is shown lying on his security-clearance form. Ouch! Can it get any worse for Sessions, who once held an uber safe U.S. Senate seat from Alabama?

In the money-laundering settlement, the DOJ cut Russian interests a stunningly sweet deal, and House Democrats want to know why. From a report at New York Daily News:

House Judiciary Committee Democrats are questioning why the Trump Justice Department decided to settle a money laundering case on the cheap with a Russian real estate concern repped by the same Russian lawyer who met with his son in June 2016.

House Judiciary ranking member John Conyers and other Dems wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking whether lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya had a hand in settlement talks between Russian real estate firm Prevezon Holdings Ltd. and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prevezon agreed in May to pay a $6 million penalty in order to avoid a trial for allegedly laundering money from a $230 million tax fraud.

The Dems’ letter said “the department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”

What might those "underlying facts" have revealed? Here is a take from Mother Jones, with the headline "Democrats Want to Know If Trump Quashed a Russian Money Laundering Case In Return for Dirt on Hillary Clinton." The headline alone suggests a quid pro quo of international scope, not to mention blatant violations of U.S. election laws. Here's more:

In this case, Don Jr. initially said that he met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya because she wanted to discuss Russian adoptions. But the law banning Americans from adopting Russian babies is a nothingburger, a minor bit of Putin score-settling enacted in retaliation for Congress passing the Magnitsky Act. When you hear “Russian adoptions,” Magnitsky is the real topic of conversation.

The Magnitsky Act is a set of sanctions designed to punish Russia for arresting and killing Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer who had uncovered a state-sanctioned scheme of tax cheating that implicated police, the judiciary, tax officials, bankers, and the Russian mafia. Over $200 million was involved, much of it laundered through overseas companies, including several who used the money to buy up high-end Manhattan real estate. One of these companies was Prevezon.

Natalia Veselnitskaya was one of Prevezon’s lawyers. Preet Bharara was the US Attorney prosecuting the case, which was not going well for Prevezon. However, Donald Trump fired Bharara in March, and two months later the Justice Department surprised everyone by abruptly settling the case for $6 million. The settlement was so meager that one of Prevezon’s US attorneys said it was “almost an admission that they shouldn’t have brought the case.” Veselnitskaya herself crowed that it was “almost an apology from the government.”

So: was there a deal made last year? Did Trump campaign aides—or Trump himself—agree to scuttle the case against Prevezon in return for dirt on Hillary Clinton?

How sweet was the deal for Russian interests? This is from a Prevezon press release, issued after the settlement. You can almost hear company executives, and their lawyers, strutting:

From the outset, Prevezon and its owner Denis Katsyv have maintained their innocence and have repeatedly stated that they had no involvement in or knowledge of any fraudulent activities and never received any funds from any criminal activity.

The U.S. Government brought this case without conducting any independent investigation, relying exclusively on the claims of William Browder, a convicted tax evader who CBS News reported in 2012 renounced his U.S. citizenship to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

Prevezon agreed to settle the lawsuit without admitting any guilt for less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the U.S. Government to avoid the exorbitant costs of additional litigation. Importantly, the U.S. Government has agreed that Prevezon's payment does not constitute a forfeiture or penalty long sought by the Government.

Prevezon got off by paying less than three percent of the amount initially sought by the feds? Gee, that's some "tough love." Did Jeff Sessions roll over like a shih tzu and let the Russians scratch his belly? If so, was it all tied to Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails, a meeting with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and Trump campaign efforts to get "dirt" on Hillary Clinton? And did Donald Trump, the president, know all about it?

As for documents revealing Sessions' false statements on security-clearance forms, this is from a report at Politico:

The Justice Department released a portion of Attorney General Jeff Sessions' background check questionnaire Thursday, confirming that he did not report meetings with the Russian ambassador or any other foreign nationals when he was being vetted for a security clearance earlier this year.

Sessions' aides confirmed in May that he had not listed two meetings with the Russians or hundreds of other meetings with foreign officials, but a liberal watchdog group filed a lawsuit for a copy of the relevant question and answer from Sessions' questionnaire, known as Standard Form 86 or more commonly, an SF-86. . . .

Sessions' aides say an assistant helping him complete the form was told by the FBI that he did not have to list meetings held in his official capacity as a U.S. senator. Sessions says he was acting as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee when he had the meetings.

The FBI has not commented on whether Sessions completed the form accurately or whether an FBI employee in fact said such meetings were exempt from the reporting requirement.

American Oversight, the watchdog group, is still digging, and its efforts raise anew questions about whether Sessions is fit to serve as AG. Reports Politico:

American Oversight is also seeking any notes the FBI has about how it learned of Sessions' meetings with the Russians and any inquiry the agency made into those contacts. No such information was turned over Thursday.

While special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the American Oversight request and suit did not prompt the FBI to assert the FOIA exemption most commonly used to withhold materials related to pending investigations.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to lie to the FBI on an issue of national security," Austin Evers of American Oversight said in a statement. "It’s one thing to know that the Attorney General lied on his security clearance form, but it’s another to see a potential felony in black and white."

"Mr. Sessions has advised federal prosecutors across the country to charge defendants with the most serious crimes, carrying the toughest penalties. Special Counsel Robert Mueller should take him at his word," Evers added. "Making false statements in a security clearance application can be a felony, and American Oversight is deeply concerned that Trump administration political appointees may be interfering in the FOIA process to protect the Attorney General from the release of potentially incriminating information."

Stories of Missouri deputies, suggesting Carol broke her own arm by flailing about in patrol car, are a steaming pile of feces -- and here is how we know

Sheriff Jim Arnott and a Greene County (Mo.) patrol car
(From missourifamily.org)
Four Missouri deputies suggest in written statements about our unlawful eviction in September 2015 that my wife, Carol, broke her own arm. She did that, they hint, by flailing about in the back seat of a patrol car after being handcuffed and arrested, for alleged "assault on a law enforcement officer" -- after the cops had brutalized HER. (See here, here, and here.) They also claim she was screaming and cussing while in the patrol car.

Is any of this remotely true? No, it isn't, and we can point to at least two key pieces of evidence to prove it.

The truth is that Carol's arm already was broken before she was placed in the patrol car. It was broken when three cops surrounded her as she was trying to enter our duplex apartment -- as she had been given permission to do -- to retrieve our cat's litter box. An officer in a blue shirt -- we cleverly call him "Mr. Blue Shirt" -- grabbed Carol from behind, around the shoulders, and slammed her butt-first to the ground. The impact of that body slam might have been enough to cause a concussion. But "Mr. Blue Shirt" (who is not nearly as pleasant as Mr. Blue Sky, of Electric Light Orchestra fame) was not finished inflicting damage. He then yanked on Carol's arms in an upward and backward direction, grabbing and twisting her arms just above the elbow.

That's when her arm was shattered, so severely that it required trauma surgery for repair; regular orthopedic work would not fix it. How do we know the "flailing" story is a steaming pile of excrement?  Here is reason No. 1:

Carol was placed in a seat belt in the patrol car

Carol states unequivocally that cops used a seat belt -- with a shoulder harness -- when they placed her in the back seat of the patrol car. In other words, she was handcuffed with her arms behind her and restrained from her shoulders down. Try putting on handcuffs from behind, with a lap belt and shoulder harness, and see how much you can flail around in the back seat of your vehicle. You will find real quickly that you can't.

I was sitting in our car, which was parked close to the garage in our driveway of the duplex, when this happened. The patrol car was parked in the other driveway of the duplex, behind me and to my right, fairly close to the street. I lost sight of Carol as they put her in the backseat -- she was obscured partly by the vehicle itself and partly because, as I recall, its windows were tinted.

Two points are lodged in my memory as I read the officers' accounts: (1) My windows were rolled down, and I never heard Carol scream or curse at all. In fact, I never heard her cry out when her arm was broken, perhaps because she was in shock (paramedics later treated her with oxygen, which generally is applied to patients who show signs of going into shock) and perhaps because she already had suffered a concussion; (2) I remember, from my own experience being brutalized by cops in Shelby County, Alabama, that they belted me into the backseat to the point I felt like Hannibal Lecter. And that was while the vehicle was sitting still. I sat like that, with pepper spray dripping off of me, for roughly 20-30 minutes while an officer filled out a report before the car ever moved.

If you Google "prisoner transport and seat belts," you will find there has been litigation around the country about instances where prisoners or suspects were injured after officers failed to secure them with seat belts. (See here, here, and here.) Police agencies have paid out lots of money for failing to secure individuals riding in the back of patrol cars.

Our research indicates many police agencies have adopted policies that require officers to use seat belts whenever transporting prisoners or suspects. This is from page 745 of the policies and procedures manual of the Springfield (Mo.) Police Department, which is available online:

All prisoners transported in a police car shall be secured with a seat belt for their safety.

The manual for the Greene County (Mo.) Sheriff's Office disappeared online after I started writing about how the department's handling of Carol's case differed from official policy. We are in the process now of obtaining a hard copy of the manual, and my guess is that it includes a policy that requires officers to use seat belts when transporting prisoners.

If my guess about that is correct, it means the deputies not only are lying in their written statements, but they also violated departmental policy if they did not use a seat belt.

Either way, Carol is not the flailing type -- and she did not break her own arm in the backseat of a patrol car. We will address the second reason we know that in an upcoming post.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Ashley Madison customers revealed: Andy Schroeder, president and owner of South Central Steel in Harpersville, appears at extramarital-affairs Web site

Andy and Monica Schroeder
(From facebook.com)
The president and owner of a Birmingham-area steel company appears as a paying customer at the Ashley Madison extramarital-affairs Web site, according to publicly available documents.

Andy Schroeder has been with South Central Steel Inc. (SCS), of Harpersville, since 2010. He has degrees in engineering from Virginia Tech and finance from Auburn University.

His wife, Monica Johnson Schroeder, also is a major figure in the corporate world. According to her Facebook page, she is a vice president at Capital One and has held several positions in real-estate finance.

The couple has at least one child, a son named Drew. They appear to have an older son named Chase, but that is not certain from published reports. According to his Facebook page, Andy Schroeder went to Briarwood Christian High School.

What is South Central Steel? This is from the company's Web site:

South Central Steel, Inc.

SCS has provided the highest quality fabricated structural steel to the industrial and commercial construction industry for over 20 years. Our dedication to quality, performance and customer satisfaction is the primary reason for our continued success. We have become a leader in steel construction throughout the United States providing the highest value and professional services to our customers. We have talented professionals and the latest technology to give our customers a total steel package.

Have you always wanted a "total steel package"? Well, now you know where to get one.  The SCS Web site lists projects across the South, from Texas to Georgia and Florida.

Providing "total steel packages" apparently pays well. The Schroeder family lives at 5036 Greystone Way, and the property has an estimated value of $863,442.

Shelby County records indicate the Schroeders own quite a bit of property, either corporate or personal, in what generally is considered Alabama's fastest growing county. For example, in April 2017, they took out a $750,000 commercial real estate mortgage on what appears to be at least two lots in the fourth sector of Greystone.

Our best guess is that it will be some sort of business development. What kind? We aren't sure, but it won't be cheap.

We sought comment from Andy Schroeder for this post, but he has not responded to our queries.


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)

(35) Thomas T. Lamberth Jr., mortgage banker, BBVA Compass, Birmingham (6/20/17)

(36) Ron Ten Berge, exec. partner, Frontenac Private Equity, Chicago/Birmingham (6/28/17)

Megan Rondini story sends this sobering message: If you are an out-of-state student, thinking about enrolling at the University of Alabama . . . don't do it

Megan Rondini
The Megan Rondini story likely will leave us with plenty of lessons, and perhaps the most important is this: If you are an out-of-state student, thinking about enrolling at the University of Alabama . . . don't do it.

Rondini, a 20-year-old UA student who killed herself after her rape allegations were met with indifference and a string of lies about Alabama law from investigators, almost certainly would be alive today if she had gone to a college or university in her home state of Texas. She almost certainly would be alive if she had gone to school in the vast majority of other states. But Rondini understandably chose UA -- which has an attractive campus, a powerhouse football team, a welcoming Greek system, and outwardly pleasant surroundings (when Tuscaloosa isn't being threatened by a tornado).

Those amenities, plus scholarship opportunities to attract high achievers from beyond Alabama's borders, are a major reason students from around the country have been flocking to UA in recent years. But many come with no particular ties to the Tuscaloosa community, a place where "connections" reign supreme. That makes them vulnerable, especially female students like Megan, when a wealthy and connected local like T.J. Bunn Jr. allegedly preys on them.

In most functional college towns, Megan's allegations probably would have been taken seriously and investigated, putting a guy like "Sweet Tea" Bunn at risk of facing years behind bars. In Tuscaloosa, a dysfunctional network of white privilege and entitlement, combined with the Bunn family's financial donations to local law-enforcement candidates, bought protection for "Sweet Tea."

Megan met a stonewall of resistance and deception, leading to frustration and despair that apparently caused her to take her own life. That might lead to an expensive public-relations nightmare for the University of Alabama and its environs, whose secrets could be unmasked in a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by Birmingham attorney Leroy Maxwell Jr., on behalf of the Rondini family.

That's ironic because the University of Alabama has been thriving on the backs of students like Megan Rondini. It is among the nation's top institutions at growing enrollment by attracting students from out of state.

Just 10 years ago, UA was a relatively small flagship university, with an enrollment of 23,878. By fall 2016, the student body had grown to a record 37,665. As the university approaches 40,000 students, it's heading into the rarefied neighborhood occupied by the nation's largest institutions, such as Ohio State (66,046), U of Michigan (44,718), U of Texas (50,950), U of Florida (52,286) and UCLA (44,947).

Many public colleges, facing shrinking state support, have started chasing out-of-state students -- and their tuition dollars -- according to a report last July at The New York Times. The University of Alabama has engaged in that battle so aggressively that its enrollment now features more than 50 percent non-resident students. From The Times article:

Elliot Spillers, from Pelham, Ala., was student body president at the University of Alabama last year — the first black student in 40 years to have held that position. He said he doubted he would have been elected if the student body, which is mostly white, had been homegrown. The university’s enrollment is now more than half out-of-staters.

“It’s definitely shifting the culture here on campus, which is a positive thing,” Mr. Spillers said, echoing the views of many students.

Others see a less positive side to the change.

Of the out-of-state undergraduates at Alabama’s Tuscaloosa campus, more than 3,000 receive merit aid in the form of free or discounted tuition — an average of $19,000 per student. In 2015, the university gave $100 million in merit aid.

Scholarship support for out-of-state students at UA is substantial.  A Capstone Scholar receives $20,000 over four years. A Collegiate Scholar receives $24,000 over four years. A Foundation in Excellence Scholar receives $52,000 over four years. A UA Scholar receives $76,000 over four years. A Presidential Scholar receives $100,000 over four years. A Presidential Scholar receives full tuition for up to four years and one year of on-campus housing.

Megan Rondini was attracted to UA, in part, by financial support. From the BuzzFeed News article that broke her story to a national and international audience (with almost 2.3 million views):

Megan had an honors scholarship at UA, and she studied hard, scoring a spot in a special MBA program for high achievers in STEM fields and working after class at a lab studying Alzheimer’s disease.

Last November, The New York Times published a story titled "How the University of Alabama Became a National Player." From the article:

How . . . you might ask, did Brianna Zavilowitz, a Staten Islander with 2120 SATs and a 4.0 grade-point average, daughter of a retired N.Y.P.D. detective and an air traffic controller, with zero interest in pledging and middling enthusiasm for football, wind up in Tuscaloosa for college?

This was not the capricious choice of a freckle-faced teenager, which she is. Rather, the reason she turned down the University of California, Berkeley, and canceled her Columbia University interview (“I figured I didn’t want to waste his time”) reveals the new competitive ethos in public higher education: Think big and recruit.

Ms. Zavilowitz first noticed the university on Facebook. A few clicks and Bama was omnipresent. Pop-ups, emails and literature piqued her interest. She visited, took the bus tour, was tickled by the Southern hospitality. Her mother appreciated detailed parent information suggesting “a well-oiled machine.” There was more: a full-tuition scholarship. “My mom kept telling me not to look at the money,” said Ms. Zavilowitz, chatting in red Alabama footies. “But it definitely helped.” Roll, Tide, roll.

Here is more about the strategy that has made the University of Alabama the fastest growing flagship campus in the country:

With state funding now just 12.5 percent of the university’s budget, campus leaders have mapped an offensive strategy to grow in size, prestige and, most important, revenue. The endgame is to become a national player known for more than championship football. [California] Berkeley, the University of Michigan and University of Virginia are the schools “we compare ourselves against,” said Kevin W. Whitaker, Alabama’s interim provost.

Alabama has invested heavily to lure students like Ms. Zavilowitz, who does not qualify for federal financial aid. The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27.

This seems to be the equation: Hire "an army of recruiters" to go after top non-resident students; dangle serious scholarship money; offer lots of amenities, promote Southern culture and top-notch football; compare yourself to Cal, Michigan, Virginia, and the like . . . and students flock to your campus from all over the country.

One thing seems to be missing in the equation. Many students, from all destinations, enjoy the occasional (OK, frequent) night on the town. In Megan's case, that meant a trip to Innisfree Irish Pub, where she came in contact with "Sweet Tea" Bunn. When that led to a sexual encounter that Megan insisted was not consensual -- at Bunn's mansion -- she discovered that UA's interest in her did not go far beneath the surface. In the Rondini vs. Bunn match, Megan never had a chance; Tuscaloosa elites sided heavily with Bunn.

Ultimately, Megan Rondini lost her life because of the indifference that lurks throughout the city and university hierarchy. Other potential UA students from out of state might want to think twice about that before falling for the university's entreaties.