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Did Corruption In Divorce Court Drive One Mother to Plan a Murder?

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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

An Alabama woman has pleaded guilty to federal charges that she conspired to kill her ex husband after losing custody of her children in a divorce case.

Kimberly Dawn McGuffie, 44, of Calera, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire.  She will be sentenced on March 5, and her mother, Barbara Louise Patterson, also has been indicted in the case. The indictment alleges that the two women conspired to poison McGuffie's ex husband after losing custody of the couple's children. The plot unraveled when the hit man they were trying to hire wound up being an informant for authorities.

At one time, I would have read such a story, shrugged my shoulders, and said to myself, "This woman and her mother are bad people, who got caught trying to do a bad thing. They are getting what they deserve."

But now that I've received an 11-year education in the real world of the American justice system--and gotten to know numerous other people who have been victimized in court--I look at the McGuffie story in a different light. I have learned that Alabama domestic-relations courts can be horrifically corrupt, with decisions made not on the facts and the law but on what lawyer is buddies with the judge--or who happens to belong to the same hunting club as the judge.

Because I know that Alabama domestic-relations courts can be a cesspool of the foulest variety, certain questions about the McGuffie case quickly come to mind?

* Did her ex have the financial or political clout to hire the right lawyer who could grease the judge's palm in the specified way?

* Did her lawyer know what was going on and sell out his own client in order to remain in good standing with the legal cartel?

* Were custody issues decided on the facts presented in the case, or did the judge simply play favorites--or worse yet, did he award the children to the highest bidder?

These questions, of course, make me sound like a colossal cynic about our justice system. But as regular readers know, this is not a theoretical exercise for me. Shelby County is the venue where Mrs. Schnauzer and I were on the short end of one bizarre ruling after another--and that experience motivated us to learn about the actual law and share what we had learned with readers in the blogosphere.

Shelby County also is the venue where Sherry Carroll Rollins was the victim of the most grotesque judicial cheat job I've encountered in the civil arena--and that was from a divorce case that had been litigated for three years in South Carolina, meaning Alabama did not have jurisdiction to hear the case. Circuit Judge D. Al Crowson took the case anyway and issued a judgment that was so favorable to Ted Rollins that Sherry Rollins and the couple's two daughters now are on food stamps--even though Mr. Rollins owns multiple private jet craft, is the CEO of a company with a $380-million Wall Street IPO, and belongs to one of the nation's wealthiest families.

I no longer assume that someone like Kimberly Dawn McGuffie is a bad person who was destined to do a bad thing. I know, from first-hand experience, the back-breaking stress that comes with being on the receiving end of a judicial cheat job. And I can imagine that such stress becomes heightened when children and broken homes are involved.

Let's not forget the case of Blake Lazenby, the Talladega lawyer who was gunned down  in his home back in August. A source tells Legal Schnauzer that Lazenby was shot four times in his dining room, while still wearing his business suit. "That was an execution," our source says.

Why did someone want to do Blake Lazenby harm? The answer to that question is unclear, and Talladega County officials have said virtually nothing  about their investigation. But this much is clear: Lazenby was in the midst of a divorce, and judges and lawyers were playing a wicked game of hardball with his wife. Lazenby's lawyers had gone so far as to issue subpoenas for records that appeared to have nothing to do with the case--and might have caused third parties significant angst.

Did that angst drive someone to commit murder? My guess is that it did, and I also think something funky is going on with the "investigation." Lazenby was shot in his home, his car was found on fire in the Birmingham suburb of Tarrant, he was involved in a nasty divorce case, and had at least one other high-profile case on his docket. There should be plenty of evidence to solve this crime, but we've heard not a peep from law-enforcement officials.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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