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The courtroom misery that my wife and I have experienced, on the surface, seems like a story of legal intrigue. But upon closer inspection, you find what Hollywood might call a "psychological thriller." That's because Mike McGarity, the troublesome neighbor who initiated our law-related headaches, comes from a background of intense family dysfunction. I was reminded of that not long ago when I stumbled upon the obituary of Edmund C. McGarity, 83, who had lived in the Gadsden, Alabama, suburb of Rainbow City. Edmund McGarity was Mike McGarity's father. In fact, Mr. McGarity had five children, four of them boys, and all four boys had (or have) criminal records. What kind of father was Edmund C. McGarity? Well, I guess you could say he was consistent--all four of his boys turned out to be thugs. and two of them died young, under unusual circumstances. To put it in stark terms, public records show that Edmund C. McGarity was a miserable failure as a father--and Mrs. Schnauzer and I have paid a colossal price for it. You might say we aren't real happy that the results of Mr. McGarity's parenting "skills" wound up on our doorstep. Not long after Mike McGarity became our next-door neighbor in December 1998, we learned that he had several "charming" qualities. He was a smart ass and a bully, who seemed to have no clue that nearby property owners had certain rights. Because of his surly demeanor, and apparent intellectual deficits, it was impossible to carry on a semi-adult conversation with him. I had lived for 42 years, graduated from a large university, traveled extensively, and lived in three different cities--and I had never come across anyone like this guy. So I decided to conduct some research, using the resources of the Birmingham Public Library and various law-enforcement agencies. I was not surprised to learn that Mike McGarity himself had a criminal history. But it was fascinating--in a dark, foreboding way--to learn about the family that had produced him. Included among the five McGarity children was one girl. Her name is Nancy McGarity Lawrence, she lives in Birmingham--and best I can tell--she has no record of being anything other than a law-abiding citizen and a decent human being. She has my deepest sympathies for having grown up with four brothers who must have been miserable to be around. Her youngest brother, Mike, would have been bad enough on his own. But the other three apparently weren't much better, and public records indicate one brother was even worse. We already have examined Mike McGarity's criminal record, and we soon will be providing more details. We have noted the irony that he has worked for roughly 25 years at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, a federal contractor that is supposed to have solid background checks and stringent requirements for employee screening. We also noted that Koko Mackin, a spokeswoman for BC/BS of Alabama has been quoted about the company's commitment to ensuring the integrity of member health information by, presumably, weeding out questionable characters among its staff--yet she and other executives seem blissfully unconcerned that a documented thug is in their midst. Is it any wonder that Mrs. Schnauzer and I struggled to interact with Mike McGarity--and determined early on that we wanted no part of him, or anyone affiliated with him, having access to our property? It certainly isn't when you learn about his criminal history--and the backgrounds of his three brothers. What can lead to such dysfunction? Well, the seminal event apparently came on June 5, 1973, when Edmund C. McGarity and his first wife, Lenora T. McGarity, divorced. According to the divorce decree, the three oldest boys were to live with their father. Mike (age 13) and Nancy (age 11) were to live with their mother. How bad was the home environment before the divorce? I have no idea, but it clearly did not help turn out well-adjusted males. Here are brief summaries of what we've learned about the McGarity "men"--and trust me, it's not pleasant reading: Marshall Edmund McGarity--Date of birth: 8/7/1952 . . . apparently was the brain among the siblings . . . had a degree in accounting from Birmingham-Southern College and worked in the gas accounting department at Southern Natural Gas, which later became El Paso Corporation . . . was married to Celia McGarity, who has a background in interior design . . . she filed for divorce in 1977 but withdrew the complaint in 1978 . . . he committed suicide in 2004--by gunshot wound to the head, according to our sources. Criminal Highlights: Driving while intoxicated (twice), driving without a license (twice). Charles Alan McGarity--Date of birth: 8/30/1955 . . . the criminal "star" of the family . . . he lives somewhere in Alabama, and his wife's name is Maria . . . has worked in landscaping . . . his rap sheet is so extensive that I almost certainly have not uncovered all of it . . . was once represented by William E. Swatek, one of the lead characters in our Legal Schnauzer story, on a theft charge . . . public records indicate he has served time in the Jefferson County Correctional Center. Criminal highlights: grand larceny in a narcotics-related case (guilty plea), theft of property (guilty plea), criminal trespass (sounds familiar), public intoxication, disorderly conduct, numerous driving-related offenses. William Cody McGarity--Date of birth: 1/24/1957 . . . he apparently was gay and died of AIDS in 1996 . . . was facing a theft-of-property charge at the time of his death . . . must have liked shopping in high-end places; was arrested for shoplifting a package of cigarettes at the Western Supermarket in Mountain Brook . . . no information that I could find regarding employment. Criminal highlights (aside from theft charge): Driving while intoxicated, public intoxication, driving without a license (three times). It's not as if the McGarity siblings grew up in rugged surroundings. They appear to have grown up in the fashionable Birmingham suburb of Homewood and had access to some of the finest K-12 schools in Alabama. It's not like they were impoverished; their father had degrees in accounting and law and was an executive at several companies, including U.S. Pipe. At one point, I thought about trying to look up Edmund C. McGarity in Rainbow City and see if he would talk to Mrs. Schnauzer and me. Here are a few questions I thought about asking him: Do you realize that you raised a son who is an absolutely wretched human being? Do you realize that your son has caused us untold misery? Do you care? I finally decided that Edmund C. McGarity probably wouldn't give a flip about the repercussions of his own flawed parenting. We never made a trip to Gadsden and never had that little chat with the man who apparently played a major role in ensuring that we would have a next-door neighbor from hell. What's our profound lessons for the day? Dysfunction can grow in seemingly unlikely environments. It can cause substantial harm for people who innocently cross its path down the road. If you wind up being a victim of someone else's family dysfunction, you probably will have to take matters into your own hands; public officials aren't likely to do anything about it, and they even might make the situation worse.
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...)