Burt Newsome Case

Ruining a rival may have been the prevailing opinion in Alabama in 1961 as was racial segregation. What rivals would Balch “ruin” in Washington, DC or elsewhere?

Collections, Guns, and Threats

“This is the last time you are going to f*** with my wife again,” Alfred Seier said with a pistol in his hand on January 30, 2012.

The target, Burt Newsome of Shelby County, Alabama, is a sole-practitioner attorney who has worked for several banks in recovering business or personal loans that have defaulted—a collections attorney. In October of 2010, he obtained a judgement of $189,930.08 from Sharyn K. Lawson, the wife of Seier, a builder who appears to have been suffering economically and was “tapped out” according to court documents.

Newsome, fearing for his life ducked behind his car and ran back to his office. Three days later, he filed a warrant against Al Seier for menacing and Seier was arrested.

Continued below.

That same month, February of 2012, prominent attorney Claiborne Seier, brother of Al Seier, offered to buy his sister-in-law’s note from Aliant Bank. The bank, on lock-down and allegedly worried about the threatening events surrounding the loan, agreed to sell the note at a deep discount.

Repeatedly, Claiborne Seier asked Newsome to drop the charges against his brother. Newsome refused.

After disclosing that Al Seier was dying of cancer, Claiborne Seier allegedly threated Newsome, declaring he “would regret prosecuting Al,” according to court exhibits.

On May 8, 2012 Al Seier was convicted of menacing, given a 30-day suspended sentence, and put on probation, but died of cancer six-months later, on November 18, 2012.

Most would think this would be the end of the tale, but this is where Balch and Bingham’s involvement appears to bloom.

Framed and Arrested

On Thursday, May 2, 2013, Newsome is stopped for speeding and wrongly arrested for the exact same charge that Al Seier was convicted of: menacing.

Newsome had no idea there was a warrant for his arrest. After posting bail, Newsome allegedly receives a call at his office from Claiborne Seier for no apparent reason.

Newsome appears to have been set up, framed. To get charged the same as a dead adversary is more than sweet revenge; and for some it tastes better than Alabama banana pudding.

Did Seier allegedly call him and if so was it to gloat?

So why was an arrest warrant issued?

According to court documents, in December of 2012, a month after Al Seier’s death, a vehicle was parked for some time with an unknown person adjacent to Newsome’s car—exactly like Al Seier had done the January before.

When Newsome left his office for a court hearing, a man got out of his vehicle and blocked Newsome from entering his car, identically to what Al Seier had done. Because of the previous incident, Newsome was now armed with a handgun and produced it. Newsome asked the unidentified man to please move and to enter his car. The man complied and then Newsome drove off to court.

Three hours later that December 19th afternoon, the unidentified man was still parked and sitting in his car in front of Newsome’s office, according to court documents.

That unidentified, man of mystery was one John W. Bullock, Jr. who filed a criminal complaint against Newsome a month after the confrontation, on January 14, 2013, leading to the warrant for arrest.

Little is known about Bullock except that he is the owner of the Pink Variety Store, an eccentric building supply store in Pell City, Alabama, painted in pink that sells everything from lawn tools to hula hoops.

Seeking Newsome’s Clients?

Newsome has been helping banks in Alabama collect from companies and individuals who have defaulted on loans for over twenty-years.

A proud father of four young children, including twins, Newsome has built a solid reputation among the local banks: Bryant Bank, started by the son of the famed Alabama Football Coach Bear Bryant, Iberiabank, Renasant Bank, among others.

He runs a simple operation as a sole-practitioner with three legal assistants in a store-front office off a federal highway in unincorporated Shelby County, Alabama.

Newsome’s success caught the eye of Clark A. Cooper, a partner and attorney at Balch & Bingham who also had banking clients and was seeking more client work. (Cooper was allegedly abruptly fired on March 3, 2017.)

Looking at the allegations, it appears envy, jealousy and greed could have motivated Newsome’s adversaries.

According to court documents, before Newsome’s arrest, Cooper was emailing Newsome’s banking clients in early 2013 on specific cases Newsome was already engaged in—an apparent and possible violation of Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct.

Cooper wrote in an email to one banking executive, “I see that the below suit was filed by Newsome. Anything I can do so that I could work with you?”

Two days after Newsome’s wrongful arrest, Cooper, appears to have distributed emails to at least one of Newsome’s bank clients on a Saturday afternoon that contained Newsome’s recently posted mug shot and information about his arrest on the menacing charge, according to court allegations. Calling the arrest “bizarre,” Cooper allegedly implied that Newsome’s license to practice law may be at risk, an alleged falsehood.

Balch’s partner appears to possibly have crossed the line.

Dismissed, Expunged, and Resurrected

In April of 2014, the staged criminal case that framed Newsome for menacing collapsed; the case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning no further action could be taken against Newsome.

Fully vindicated, Newsome filed a lawsuit against Cooper, Balch & Bingham, and others in January of 2015 accusing them of intentional interference with a business relationship, conspiracy, defamation, false imprisonment, and abuse of process.

A month later, on February 19, 2015, Newsome filed a request to have the staged criminal case and records expunged, and was granted that petition in September of 2015, since “neither the district attorney nor the victim filed any objection to the Petition for Expungement within 45 days,” according to the judge’s order.

Since 1972, Mary H. Harris has worked for the citizens of Shelby County, Alabama, the last 18 years as the Circuit Clerk. She is a relic of Columbiana, Alabama, the County seat. She is well known to personally answer her own phone line, and help voters apply for absentee ballots directly.

Incredibly, almost a year after the expungement, in June of 2016, another judge, with no knowledge of the details of the case, was approached jointly by legal representatives for both Bullock and Claiborne Seier. He reversed the expungement and opened the contents of a case that no longer existed, declaring that the previous judge (since retired) had erred.

The reasoning behind this resurrection was the defendants in the civil case wanted to use the details from the expunged staged crime directly against Newsome.

Harris, the lovely Southern grandmother, allegedly barred Newsome from filing a brief or even petitioning the court. (Since the case was expunged, it was not located in the electronic filing system. Filings had to be done over-the-counter, and Newsome’s filings were  allegedly not accepted.)

Can you spell railroaded with a capital R? Newsome immediately appealed the expungement resurrection.

Stranger than Fiction

Raising eyebrows and expanding the web of possible collusion, two months later, in  August of 2016, Alabama’s influential and then-Attorney General Luther Strange filed a brief in support of the resurrected expungement, citing and repeating the order signed by the new judge.

Observers could not understand why his office would ever get involved in a matter like this, especially since the brief looked like a simple “cut and paste job” from the judge’s order in June.

Strange,  who was appointed U.S. Senator on February 9, 2017 by Governor Robert Bentley (who resigned in disgrace on April 10, 2017) after Sessions was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General, is connected to Balch & Bingham through his top political advisor and former campaign manager, Jessica Garrison, who was “of counsel” at the firm until earlier this year.

Garrison had served as Chief Counsel and Deputy Attorney General for Strange shortly after he was elected Alabama Attorney General in 2010.

A hard-working, self-made lawyer, Garrison is well connected in the national political arena and according to her former profile at Balch, she served  as “a Senior Advisor to Definers Public Affairs, a new consulting firm founded by Romney-Ryan campaign manager Matt Rhoades and Joe Pounder, senior advisor to Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign.”

She, too, is well-known in Alabama political circles, and won a $3.5 million judgement in 2015 against an Alabama blogger who falsely accused her of having an affair with Strange. “This ridiculous little blog was being used as a tool to try to gain a competitive advantage. I was livid,” she wrote for Marie Claire.

She also suffered from a very public divorce and custody fight with her ex-husband Lee Garrison, current Chairman of the Board of Education and former city councilmember in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  During the election in 2013, Lee Garrison was shamed during his campaign when a photograph of him wearing a mask with a penis nose was made public.

Unbelievably, in July of 2012, Newsome had sold Jessica Garrison a foreclosed home in the upscale neighborhood of Mountain Brook after she offered the winning bid in an auction where the previous owners had defaulted on their second mortgage.

Balch & Bingham’s Defense

Founded in 1922, Balch & Bingham is a powerful Alabama law firm with over 200 attorneys and lobbyists in numerous cities in the Southeast and Washington, DC.  Balch states that their “professional, collegial culture is inspired by nationally ranked attorneys who combine business intelligence and industry leadership with high-quality legal counsel to anticipate and respond to corporate challenges both creatively and proactively.”

Responding to the allegations, Balch answered forcefully declaring that Cooper only sent the mug shot to one banker, an alleged friend.  Balch notes that the email “containing Newsome’s mug shot is irrefutably truthful because Newsome’s arrest…was in fact an event that occurred in time.” They add the information was public, and not a private matter.

Balch also noted that an internal forensic analysis could not find any other emails sent by Cooper to other parties about Newsome’s arrest.

Balch also dismissed the charges of conspiracy saying Cooper had never met any of the other defendants prior to Newsome’s lawsuit.

While we see powerful rebuttals, what is most bothersome is Balch’s defense of their tactics. Balch looks like they are trampling the rights of others in the name of the firm’s domination.

In Balch’s Amended Motion for Summary Judgment, they wrote “that bona fide business competition, even to a competitors [sic] detriment, constitutes justifiable interference.”

Balch then adds a quote from a 1961 Alabama Supreme Court decision declaring that competition “in business, even though carried to the extent of ruining a rival, constitutes justifiable interference in another’s business relations, and is not actionable, so long as it is carried on in furtherance of one’s own interest.”

Ruining a rival may have been the prevailing opinion in Alabama in 1961 as was racial segregation. What rivals would Balch “ruin” in Washington, DC or elsewhere?

The Ban, The Review, The Hope

Calling on the Trump Administration and Congressional Leadership to impose a ban on Balch & Bingham from lobbying Congress or the new Administration, the CDLU, a national advocacy group and public charity, wants Balch & Bingham to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of their treatment of competitors and resolve any significant disagreements or entanglements with competitors before the ban can be lifted.

“Our hope is that Balch & Bingham will start by focusing on their clients rather than their competitors and bring an end to the apparent mind-set of ‘ruining’ a rival business. Balch talks about their commitment to ‘mutual cooperation and openness and professionalism’ and we hope that is true, and that they will hold any spoiled apples inside the firm accountable,” the CDLU says.

CDLU, an acronym for Consejo de Latinos Unidos, has been fighting egregious corporate practices and government ineptness for 16 years, having spurred three U.S. Congressional hearings, and numerous state and local investigations.

“We have fought aggressive collection practices, inept government services, and insidious business practices. We have always said businesses and government need to treat people as individuals, not a process,” said the CDLU.

“On this one we see Newsome as a victim of a powerful and vengeful legal process. Al Seier, who has streets named after him in Birmingham, should have sought help from his brother and his friends instead of pulling out a pistol. All of this would have been prevented, but instead you now have another Southern gothic tragedy on appeal,” the CDLU added.