Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
A state bar association has suspended the license of a lawyer for making truthful statements in court filings.
That sounds like a headline from The Onion. But as we reported in a previous post, it is true. And now we have a document from the Alabama State Bar to prove it.
Angela Turner Drees is fighting to get her law license reinstated, but for now it is suspended for one year. In what "misconduct" did Drees engage? She told the truth about the actions of another lawyer, and in the legal profession, that apparently can get you in trouble.
When it issues such decisions, does the Alabama State Bar expect the public to take them seriously? Better yet, how did the state bar become so dysfunctional that it would issue such a decision in the first place?
We suspect it's driven by many perverse "rules," both written and unwritten, that seem to permeate the legal profession. Consider just a few oddities that are present in the Angela Turner Drees case:
* Was the ruling against Angela Drees issued by a judge, someone with special knowledge and experience in such matters? Nope. It was issued by a regular lawyer, a guy who apparently is appointed to such duties because he's been around a long time.
* Was Angela Drees punished largely because she is a sole practitioner? The answer appears to be yes. The opposing lawyer in question, the one who really did make false statements in an official proceeding and admitted to it, belongs to a major downtown Birmingham firm. Has he been punished? Nope.
* Why did the opposing lawyer in the Drees case confess to having made false statements in a court proceeding? The answer, apparently, is this: A lawyer faces an automatic loss of his license if he is found to have lied to the bar; a lawyer who lies to a judge in open court can usually get away with it, especially if he belongs to a large firm or has political connections. In the perverse world of the "legal profession," lying to the bar is a very risky thing to do. Under such circumstances, even the worst legal scoundrels are likely to tell the truth. In this case, the truth revealed that Angela Turner Drees had been making factual statements all along. And yet, she's the one who had her license suspended.
Again, do bar associations expect the public to take them seriously?
This all grew out of Turner v. Turner, the kind of classic judicial con job that seems to regularly emanate from Alabama's domestic-relations courts. Here is how we described the basics in a previous post:
Turner v. Turner involves Kile Turner, the Turner in the title of [the Birmingham firm Norman Wood Kendrick and Turner], and Angela Turner Drees, who is also a lawyer and used to practice at the Birmingham firm Haskell Slaughter. The Turners were married and had triplets together before getting a divorce.
They initially had a shared-custody agreement, but that changed when Kile Turner stated under oath that Dr. Hajo Drees, Angela Turner Drees' current husband, had been convicted on two felony counts of domestic violence--one involving his ex wife and one involving his son. Richard Vincent, Kile Turner's attorney, seconded those statements in court proceedings, and that apparently played a key role in Turner receiving custody of the triplets, who are now 10 years old and have not seen their mother in two-plus years.
Are the charges that Kile Turner and his lawyer made against Hajo Drees true? Three public documents indicate they are not--and that Turner and Vincent now have acknowledged, in a proceeding before the Alabama State Bar, that they are not true.
We already have reported on a writ of mandamusand a motion to strike, both filed by Angela Turner Drees, that indicate Kile Turner's statements regarding Hajo Drees were false. Now we have a document from the Alabama State Bar itself.
The ruling was issued by Billy C. Bedsole, who is identified as a disciplinary hearing officer for the Alabama State Bar. What is Mr. Bedsole's main qualification? It's apparently that he's old, having been admitted to the bar in 1963. Also, he is a member of the Mobile firm Stockman and Bedsole.
First, let's consider a couple of complicating factors in the Angela Turner Drees matter before the Alabama State Bar:
* Drees did not attend the disciplinary hearing. That's because a bench warrant had been issued for her arrest for failure to attend a court proceeding in Jefferson County. Why did Drees fail to attend? She was in Germany, where her husband lives, when a hearing in Turner v. Turner was called on short notice. The cost of an airline ticket on such short notice was extraordinarily high, and she was unable to obtain one in time to attend the hearing.
* Did the court in Jefferson County intentionally set up Drees for a failure-to-appear warrant? It certainly looks that way. The original judge in Turner v. Turner, R.A. "Sonny" Ferguson, has been connected to an Alabama hunting club where member judges and lawyers reportedly conspire to fix divorce cases. Multiple federal lawsuits have been filed over the hunting-club issue, including two by Joseph W. Blackburn, a professor at Cumberland School of Law on the campus of Samford University in Birmingham. (Note: Judge R.A. "Sonny" Ferguson mysteriously announced his retirement from the bench last year, even though he is only in his mid 50s and almost certainly could have served for another 10 to 15 years. He now is with the Birmingham firm of Christian and Small.)
The bottom line? The Alabama State Bar punished Angela Turner Drees for two primary reasons: (1) It claims she falsely stated in court documents that Kile Turner and his attorney, Richard Vincent, had been adjudicated guilty of perjury by the court in Turner v. Turner; (2) It claims she falsely stated that Turner and Vincent were both being subjected to disbarment proceedings.
Angela Turner Drees says neither of those statements were false. She says a court document, which was not presented at her disciplinary hearing, shows that even Judge Ferguson found that Turner and Vincent had, in fact, made false statements before the court--and the judge's finding means the matter was "adjudicated." She also says that the Alabama State Bar currently is investigating charges of misconduct against Turner and Vincent, even though earlier complaints were dismissed.
A reasonable person can get lost in the technicalities of the Alabama State Bar's findings against Angela Turner Drees. But this much is clear: Kile Turner and Richard Vincent admitted to the state bar that they made false statements to the court in Turner v. Turner.
In his report and order suspending Angela Turner Drees, Billy C. Bedsole writes about Kile Turner's allegations against Hajo Drees. Bedsole states that his findings are based on Turner's testimony before the Disciplinary Board of the Alabama State Bar.
What does Bedsole find? "Mr. Turner testified as to his knowledge of Mr. Drees having been convicted on a charge of domestic violence." Then Bedsole writes: "Later in the custody proceedings, it was discovered that there was not an actual conviction for domestic violence."
In other words, Kile Turner admitted to the disciplinary board that his statements regarding Hajo Drees were false. Does Billy C. Bedsole consider that a serious matter? Apparently not. He dismisses it as "nothing more than a minor mistake or inadvertence." (Never mind that this "minor mistake" helped give Kile Turner full custody of the Turner triplets and a highly favorable financial arrangement.)
As for Richard Vincent, Kile Turner's lawyer, Bedsole writes: "Mr. Vincent testified that he originally believed that Mr. Drees had been convicted of domestic violence but later realized he was incorrect."
Vincent, like his client, admits to having made a false statement in Turner v. Turner--and the Alabama State Bar's "disciplinary board" does not seem to be the least bit bothered by it. In fact, the board proceeds to punish Angela Turner Drees, the victim of these false statements.
Is the Alabama State Bar running a kangaroo court? Is that question an insult to kangaroo courts?
Here is the full report and order on the Angela Turner Drees matter before the Alabama State Bar:
Angela Drees--Alabama State Bar