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General News    H2'ed 7/15/08

Alabama Blogger is Fired Over Siegelman Coverage

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Message Roger Shuler
Writing About Siegelman Case Costs Alabama Blogger his Job
Roger Shuler, who writes the blog Legal Schnauzer, has been fired from his job as an editor in the Publications Office at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
Shuler, who had worked at UAB for 19 years, apparently was terminated because he wrote critically about the Bush Justice Department, especially its handling of the Don Siegelman prosecution in Alabama and the Paul Minor case in Mississippi.
Lindsay Beyerstein, a reporter for the Raw Story Web site, broke the story with a major investigative piece.
Shuler had recently posted a series of original investigative pieces about Alice Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama and a Bush appointee. Martin is the federal prosecutor who first went after Siegelman, in a case that was so weak a federal judge in Birmingham quickly kicked it out of court. Siegelman was eventually convicted in a case brought in Montgomery by Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.
Shuler's posts showed that while Martin evidently is eager to prosecute Siegelman and other Democrats, she drags her feet and even intentionally hides evidence when presented with possible wrongdoing by Republicans. In fact, Shuler's primary allegation against Republican judges in Alabama involved honest-services mail fraud (18 U.S. Code 1346), the offense that made up roughly two-thirds of the charges against Siegelman and about half of the charges in the Paul Minor case.
Siegelman's case has received heavy press coverage, including a piece by 60 Minutes, as a possible example of political prosecution by the Bush Justice Department. The Siegelman case, along with questionable prosecutions in Mississippi (Paul Minor), Pennsylvania (Cyril Wecht), and Wisconsin (Georgia Thompson), is the subject of an ongoing Congressional investigation.
Shuler's critical coverage of Alice Martin appears to be particularly significant in his termination at UAB. Alabama GOP political consultant Dax Swatek served as Martin's campaign manager when she ran (and lost) for statewide office in 2000. Dax Swatek's father is Pelham, Alabama, attorney William Swatek, who filed a baseless lawsuit against Shuler that led to rampant judicial corruption in Shelby County, Alabama and the state's GOP-dominated appellate courts.
Shuler started Legal Schnauzer primarily as an effort to expose the corruption he had witnessed in Alabama state courts. When the firings of nine U.S. attorneys became national news in the winter and spring of 2007, Shuler realized his personal experience had connections to larger justice issues. That prompted him to write critically about the Bush Justice Department, and that evidently has cost him his job.
People on the opposing side in Shuler's personal legal case have direct ties to the Bush White House. Dax Swatek has worked for Bill Canary, the Republican operative who was quoted by whistleblower Jill Simpson as saying "his girls" (Alice Martin and Leura Canary, Bill's wife) would "take care of" Don Siegelman. Bill Canary, in turn, has close ties to Karl Rove, and the two teamed in the 1990s to lead a Republican takeover of Alabama state courts.
Shuler recently uncovered evidence that Dax Swatek has close ties to a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, which oversees UAB along with campuses in Tuscaloosa and Huntsville. Shuler also has uncovered details about a massive research-fraud case at UAB, which was settled in 2005 and resulted in the university paying $3.39 million in civil damages.
That case involved two UAB whistleblowers who eventually led the government to open what is called a qui tam case. After a four-year investigation, the case was settled, but an agreement gives Martin and the U.S. attorney's office almost unlimited power to reopen the case at any time. Essentially, Martin and federal authorities hold ongoing power to investigate UAB for possible criminal, civil, and administrative wrongs connected to the whistleblower case.
In the coming days and weeks, Legal Schnauzer will present a series of reports about Dax Swatek, the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, the research-fraud whistleblower case, and their possible impact on Shuler's termination.
The primary charge against Shuler at UAB was that he allegedly had made improper use of his university computer. An internal UAB investigation, however, showed that Shuler never had written on his blog using university time or equipment. UAB officials maintain that Shuler "researched" his blog while on UAB time. But Shuler states that keeping up with current events and issues in Alabama, such as the Siegelman case, was part of his job description.
"We are responsible for keeping a file of story ideas for our some 20 UAB publications," Shuler says. "Over a period of roughly two years, the Siegelman case was the biggest story in Alabama. As a former governor, Siegelman was once ex oficio president of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. And his codefendant, Richard Scrushy, is UAB's best known alumnus. I would have been shirking my duty by not keeping up with that case."
Shuler has appealed his termination, and an internal employee grievance committee has ruled that his firing should be overturned. Cheryl Locke, UAB's director of human resources, has told Shuler that he can only return to UAB with two written warnings in his file and to a job other than the one he held previously.
Those terms are unacceptable, Shuler says, particularly because UAB policy calls for automatic dismissal if an employee receives three written warnings in an 18-month period of time. "Ms. Locke's proposal to me was not made in good faith," Shuler says. "They are setting me up to be fired all over again.I'm sure they would want me to sign away all of the legal rights I currently have for a termination they admit was wrongful. That tells me that powerful political players, external to UAB, are behind this effort to cost me my job."
Evidence suggests a plan to cost Shuler his job has been going on for some time. In a post dated February 18, 2008, Shuler wrote in detail about connections between Alice Martin and Dax Swatek, including some questionable tactics they employed in Martin's 2000 campaign for a seat on the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Shuler also wrote about Swatek's ties to disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. An anonymous comment to the February 18 post states: "Nut case yours (sic) is comong (sic)."
Since that time, Shuler has received a steady stream of threatening anonymous comments on his blog. One indicated that the commenter knew the last four digits of Shuler's Social Security Number, hinting that he or she intended to use that information in unlawful ways. A comment to a post dated April 14, 2008 specifically threatened Shuler's job at UAB, even though Shuler had never identified himself as a UAB employee. The commenter claimed that Shuler had been blogging at work. In fact, on the day in question (a Monday), Shuler was on vacation.
Shuler says his experience is an example of what can happen to regular people when they stand up to the corrupt Bush Justice Department.
"Essentially, I was fired for doing my job," Shuler says, "and for violating policies involving so-called 'non-work related activity' that don't exist. UAB does have a policy against using university equipment for political activities. But that is defined as actions that involve a political candidate, campaign, or organization. Don Siegelman has been none of those things during the time I've written about him; he's mostly been a federal prisoner. And, as UAB's own investigation showed, I wrote about him on my own time, with my own resources.
"When Cheryl Locke first made her proposal to me about overturning my termination, she included a provision that I would no longer be able to blog should I return to UAB. When I asked her via e-mail to confirm that in writing, she backed down and said only that I would have to blog on my personal time.
"That's strange because UAB's own investigation showed that I already was blogging on my personal time. Such nonsensical statements from UAB officials tell me they are trying to cover up for someone who has pressured them to violate federal law."
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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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