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Who Really Is Acting With Racist Motives in Alabama?

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Cross Posted atLegal Schnauzer

The investigation and sanctioning of three white attorneys in the 1990s indicate the Alabama State Bar has been practicing racial politics in its handling of the recent Kenya Lavender Marshall case.

Marshall, who is black,had her law license suspended, and that caused her to be removed as the Democratic Party nominee for a Jefferson County judgeship. That led the Alabama Democratic Executive Committee (ADEC) toreplace Marshall with Elisabeth French, who is black, instead of Nicole Gordon Still, who is white and was runnerup to Marshall in the primary election.

James Laster, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the Alabama New South Coalition, reacted by saying Still was a victim of racism andcalling for French to step asideas a way of showing she does not support biased and racially charged decision-making. The Birmingham chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC)seconded that sentimentyesterday.

ALegal Schnauzerinvestigation, however, indicates the New South Coalition and the SCLC are looking in the wrong place for racism. Our research on a case from the 1990s indicates it was the Alabama State Bar, not ADEC, that probably wasacting with race-based motives.

Marshall was charged with misappropriating about $30,000 in client funds. Perhaps the best known Alabama case involving similar allegations started with a bar complaint in 1994 against three Birmingham lawyers--Robert "Coach" Hayes, Robert Roden and Huell Carter.

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How does the State Bar's handling of the Marshall case compare to that in the Hayes case, where all three accused lawyers were white? Marshall's punishment was much more severe. And her investigation was handled in a much more expeditious fashion. That strongly suggests that the Alabama State Bar went after Marshall with racist and poltical motives in mind.

The Hayes case has a personal angle to it for us here atLegal Schnauzer. It started when Richard Poff, then a law clerk at the firm of Hayes Roden and Carter, filed a bar complaint claiming the partners were improperly billing personal expenses to clients. The charges generated a criminal case, multiple lawsuits, and heavy local and even national publicity.

When our legal troubles heated up in late 2003 and early 2004, we alreadyhad been cheated by Jesse P. Evans III and Michael Odom, the first two attorneys I hired to defend me against a groundless lawsuit filed byour criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity. Thinking Richard Poff seemed like a noble whistleblower, I contacted him, and he accepted my case.

That did not prove to be such a good idea. Poffturned out to be just as badas Evans and Odom. He took $4,500 of our money up front and essentially did no work on our case. We later would discover that Poff went throughan ugly divorce and bankruptcy, partly driven (according to court records) by gambling debts.

What can we learn from the Hayes episode? First, we can examine two appellate rulings on lawsuits that grew from the case--Poff v. HayesandHayes, et al v. Alabama State Bar. These cases strongly suggest that Kenya Lavender Marshall was a victim of what is known in the law as "disparate treatment."

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The Alabama State Bar operates in a secretive fashion, so it's hard to get a grip on the facts in the Hayes and Marshall cases. Certainly the two cases are not identical, so making comparisons can be tricky. But several facts jump off the page at us, indicating that the Alabama State Bar treated a black woman very differently than it treated three white men.

Consider these major components of the two cases:

*Lawyers and Crimes--No criminal charges have been brought against Kenya Lavender Marshall. Criminal charges were brought against all three lawyers in the Hayes case, and all three wound up pleading guilty to various misdemeanors. Here is how a related appellate ruling summarizes the outcome of the criminal cases against Robert "Coach" Hayes, Robert Roden, and Huell Carter:

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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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