After graduating from Mizzou (University of Missouri) with a degree in journalism, I joined the Birmingham Post Herald where I worked for 11 years. I left to take a job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I worked in various editorial positions, until I was unlawfully terminated last May. A mountain of evidence--at least I think it's a mountain--indicates I was fired because of the contents of my blog, Legal Schnauzer.
Tell us about Legal Schnauzer.
My wife and I went through a frightening experiencing in Alabama state courts, and we thought the public should know what actually goes on in some courthouses.
The neighbor later unwittingly confessed to criminal trespass third degree - but was found not guilty by a judge. (You heard that right; confess to a crime and you can be found not guilty in Alabama.) That allowed the neighbor to sue me for a tort called malicious prosecution. If you are a victim of a crime and the perpetrator is found not guilty, he can turn around and sue you.
The neighbor hired a lawyer with strong family ties to Alabama's Republican Party. And the judge in the civil case was a Republican. So the case was not dismissed, and it wound up costing us more than $40,000.
I started the blog in June 2007, just a few months after the U.S. attorney firings became a national story. The [former Democratic Governor] Don Siegelman case in Alabama became the best known example of an apparent political prosecution. And my little experience, believe or not, had connections to the Siegelman case.
In what way?
My neighbor's lawyer was a man named William E. Swatek. Swatek's son, Dax Swatek, is a GOP "consultant" in Alabama, and one of his primary mentors has been a man named Bill Canary. According to the sworn testimony of Alabama lawyer Jill Simpson, Bill Canary was at the heart of a conspiracy to initiate a bogus prosecution to "take care of" Don Siegelman. And Canary, according to Simpson, worked this out with a longtime associate, Bush White House strategist Karl Rove.
In the fall of 2007, Harper's Scott Horton referenced my reporting on the Paul Minor case in Mississippi, which has many similarities to the Siegelman case. Also that fall, my reporting was referenced in documents submitted at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee's hearing on selective prosecution.
Apparently, that made me a target at work. Strange events started happening on the job in December 2007 and got so bad that I filed a formal grievance against my supervisor. Roughly three weeks after filing that grievance, I was fired.
I have tape recorded evidence that indicates I was targeted because of my blog and its content about the Siegelman case.
Did you go into the criminal complaint against the neighbor assuming it would be a piece of cake?
No. No one wants to file a criminal complaint, particularly against someone who lives nearby. But we had exhausted all other remedies. We had multiple eye witnesses to his trespassing, so we had not only probable cause but "actual cause," so a malicious prosecution lawsuit should not have been a concern.
But that's in theory. The reality is that our justice system is populated with a fair number of corrupt lawyers and judges, and we encountered those. Bill Swatek has a bar card, and he filed a malicious prosecution claim even though he was in court and heard his client confess to the crime.