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Death of a Lawyer Hits Close to Home in Disturbing Ways

Message Roger Shuler

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Chace William Swatek (in photo above with his sister, actress Barret Swatek) had a low-profile law practice in Alabama, but my recent post about his mysterious death  drew heavy traffic and a boat load of comments, many of them with harsh words for your humble blogger.
Chace's older brother, Dax Swatek, is a well-known Republican thug/operative, with documented ties to the Karl Rove and Jack Abramoff wings of the party, and I suspect that drove some of the traffic to my post. The Swatek family seems to have little in the way of morals or ethics, but they have connections to Birmingham's sizable conservative, evangelical Christian community--and I suspect that was another driver. After all, Chace's memorial service was at Briarwood Presbyterian Church, a suburban megachurch that has ties to our Legal Schnauzer  story through a curious deal engineered by a real-estate agent named Phyllis Tinsley.
At least one reader, however, was drawn to the Chace Swatek post for a very different set of reasons. Peter B. Collins is a prominent progressive radio talk-show host who is based in San Francisco and known for producing "news and commentary from the Left Coast." I've been a guest on Peter B's show probably eight to 10 times, usually to discuss issues connected to the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. In fact, Peter B said he knows me mostly as "the guy who blogs about Siegelman."
It was not until he read the post about Chace Swatek that Peter B understood the tale of personal legal woe that caused me to start Legal Schnauzer  in the first place. He did not know that my interest in the justice system grew from a bogus lawsuit that William E. Swatek (Chace's father) filed against me  on behalf of a criminally inclined neighbor named Mike McGarity. "My first interaction with you was when you were fired from the University of Alabama, where you worked for almost 20 years, because of your private work on the blog and your coverage of the Siegelman case," Peter B said. He added that he found it "astounding" to learn that my personal story started because of the Swatek family and their ties to  Republican royalty.
My appearances on Peter B's show usually have been to discuss issues of national significance. But he had me on last week to talk about the Chace Swatek post and the personal story that drove me to start a blog about justice issues.
You can check it out at The Peter B. Collins show Web site, with a piece titled "Roger Shuler's Personal 12-year Battle Against Injustice and Sleaze in Alabama." As I recount our story, Mrs. Schnauzer and I were trying to follow Bill Clinton's advice to "work hard and play by the rules" when one day our world got turned upside down by a lawsuit from hell. "I got caught up in this like stepping in cow poop out in the field," I said. "I wasn't looking one day, and the next thing I knew I had mess all over my shoe and wondered, 'How did that happen?'
"It really started from us trying to protect our property rights. We had a difficult neighbor who wouldn't stay off our yard, and one thing led to another . . . "
The link above includes an audio preview of our discussion, and the full interview is available via subscription. Here are highlights from Peter B's examination of the Chace Swatek story and its ties to courtroom buffoonery that launched a legal blog:
On the fact that my wife and I were the victims of a low-level crime (criminal trespass), and our efforts to have that prosecuted led Mike McGarity, with Bill Swatek's help, to sue me for a little-known tort called malicious prosecution. I pointed out that McGarity was found not guilty on the criminal-trespass charge, even though a transcript of the trial shows that he confessed to committing the crime:

Because he was acquitted, (McGarity) turned around and sued me for a tort called malicious prosecution and that's what started our whole nightmare. People don't know this, but you can be the victim of a crime, and if you bring charges and the person is acquitted, they can sue you for malicious prosecution. . . . It most often is used when people are charged with shoplifting, at say a department store, and they get acquitted and then sue the department store. It's called a disfavored tort and should almost never be brought, but this guy got Bill Swatek as his lawyer, and (Swatek) has a 30-year history of sleazy activity with the Alabama State Bar, and that's how we got caught in this never-ending mess. And it can happen to any American. If you stepped outside and got mugged and decided to press charges and the guy got off, he could turn around and sue you. It's pretty scary stuff. . . . We were the victims of a low-level crime and made the mistake of taking it to court. The guy wouldn't stay off our property, and one of our concerns was that if someone got hurt on our property, we would get sued. These people were on our yard constantly . . . adults and kids. They basically turned our yard into a park.

On the special treatment that Bill Swatek receives in Shelby County court, which led to the McGarity acquittal, a lawsuit against me, and ultimately a judgment for roughly $1,500 for a tort called conversion (the malicious prosecution claimed ultimately was dismissed), which is essentially a civil form of theft. Swatek brought a conversion claim against me because I cleaned up trash that had been thrown onto my yard, and no one had claimed it. I'm not making this up; I have a legal judgment against me because I cleaned up junk out of my yard and put it in a bag in my garage:

One of the things I don't know for sure is how does (Bill Swatek) get that kind of power? And he's not the only Shelby County lawyer who gets treated favorably that way. I will be writing more about what I call a hunting club case. There are hunting clubs in Alabama, where judges and lawyers get together to fix cases, and I think something like that might be going on in Shelby County. There definitely are several federal lawsuits that have been filed related to that kind of activity related to divorce cases. . . . What we are talking about here is organized crime, where certain people get favored in court, and it appears lawyers do favors for judges through hunting clubs. . . . I read in a federal lawsuit that (certain lawyers) will take judges to South America on fishing trips or up to Canada to fish for salmon or trout or whatever they have up there. Then they come home, (and the lawyers get favorable judgments) and they don't have to meet deadlines, they don't have to file documents.

On Dax Swatek's connections, and their possible influence on my personal story:

Dax Swatek is the key figure. . . .  He has ties to what I call the two prongs of the Republican crime family. You've got the Karl Rove prong of the family, and Dax Swatek's mentor is Bill Canary. People who have followed the Siegelman case know that Bill Canary is very close to Karl Rove. In 2006, Dax Swatek was Bob Riley's campaign manager. . . . Bob Riley has very clear, documented ties to Jack Abramoff and to Michael Scanlon. You have one prong to the left that goes straight to Karl Rove and another prong to the right that goes straight to Jack Abramoff--and Dax Swatek is right in the middle of both of them. . . . And he's the older brother of Chace Swatek, the one who turned up dead.

On criticism I took for the Chace Swatek post. Peter B noted that he has a rule of waiting until someone is buried before telling the truth about them:

I didn't really have much to criticize the deceased (about). He had kind of a low-profile law practice, doing stuff like his father did--divorce and criminal defense. . . . It was an occasion to provide a lot of background on what this family is really like, and how it hits home personally to me. A lot of the comments bash me, and others stood up for me. I'm not into sugarcoating things on my blog--never have been, never will be. I just told the truth, and it's all supported by public documents about the father. I had one brief phone conversation with Chace Swatek, when he called me out of the blue . . . and I guess I will never know why he called me. Maybe I should have followed your idea of waiting until he was buried. I jumped the gun by 24 hours. I really was not critical of (Chace). It was more his father and his brother and this ugly network they are involved in.

On the comments to the Chace Swatek post:

I hope your listeners will read the comments because it's quite an expose into the right-wing mind. A lot of these people don't give a crap what has happened to me and Carol, they just don't like that I wrote about the Swateks. Several of them quoted Bible verses to me. I had a number say, "Would you please take this down . . . this is just awful to have this at a time of grief for the family.' I said, "Heck no, I'm not taking it down--it's part of my life and part of the public record. . . .

I'll pat myself on the back, I let all of those comments through, and I didn't have to. I moderate comments, and I could have kicked them all out if I had wanted to. I engaged quite a few of the people in back and forth. I challenged several of them--the ones who said you just need to get over it and move on--and said, "Why don't you confront the Swatek family? Maybe not now during a time of grief, but why don't you ask, 'What have you done to these people?' and see how they react." Of course, I don't think they will really do that. It's a real eye opener into the Southern, Republican, conservative mind.

On the damages we have incurred--including the loss of our jobs--and the notion from some commenters that we should "turn the other cheek" toward the Swatek family:

We are fighting (our employment cases) in court on our own . . . and we're surviving on our savings. . . . We don't have children, and we've made efforts to be fairly frugal--although we were not planning to use (our savings) for things like this. It's tough; I call it financial terrorism, and I think that's what they were trying to do to Don Siegelman. More than putting him in prison, I think they wanted to ruin him financially so he could never run for office again. And that's what they've tried to do to me.

We've spent $25,000 to $30,000 directly to multiple lawyers. And a lot of your listeners probably have no idea about the expenses of filing a case, filing an appeal (when you are representing yourself, as we are now). We should be stockholders in OfficeMax because we have to go there to get this stuff bound. And (those expenses) don't even count my salary for four years and my wife's salary for over two years. The people who criticize me on the comments and say "just let bygones be bygones," well . . . we're not sure, but it's probably in the neighborhood of $500,000 to $1 million that these people have cost us--when you total up salaries, benefits, legal expenses, and everything.

Turning the cheek sounds easy in Bible study class. I'm willing turn the cheek, but justice has to be achieved at some point.

In tallying up our damages, I didn't even note that Bill Swatek has unlawfully held partial ownership in our house for almost four years. Given that our house probably would go on the market for about $200,000, that gives you an idea of those damages. And the figures I tossed out didn't account for emotional pain and suffering, which has been horrific.
Here is perhaps the No. 1 theme that jumped out in the comments from Swatek supporters, many of whom seem to self identify as devout Christians: My wife and I--and others who have been victimized by Bill Swatek over the years--are non-entities. We are sub-human, not deserving of concern or respect, because we do not fit into their conservative tribe. We are to twist ourselves into all sorts of pretzel-like forms in an effort to practice Biblical principles of "forgiveness" and "letting go." But the Swateks are not to be held accountable or challenged in any way. The Biblical notions of restitution and justice are completely foreign to these commenters--unless, of course, they become victims someday.
I long have suspected that many conservatives have severely warped notions about Christianity and the Bible. The comments on the Chace Swatek post pretty much confirm that.
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Roger Shuler Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

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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