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.
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.
Genesis of the Conspiracy
Since the Newsome Conspiracy Case began to be litigated over three years ago, the co-conspirators have repeatedly said they did not know each other. Now, we have discovered evidence that someone appears to be lying.
Perjury, some would say.
According to public records, Al Seier was one of three initial members of a company called Southshore Development, LLC. Al Seier, who pulled a gun on Burt Newsome in January of 2012, is the late brother of alleged co-conspirator Claiborne Seier, an attorney who was handling his brother’s financial affairs.
And who did Southshore Development, LLC interact with in 2010 to amend their mortgage with BBVA Compass to resolve a problem loan? Balch & Bingham.
And who did Southshore Development, LLC interact with in July of 2011 to provide a full release of the mortgage? Balch & Bingham.
Regardless if the documents prepared by Balch attorney Jennifer Powell Decker (formerly Miller) and Balch partner Jeremy L. Retherford were done on behalf of BBVA Compass or Southshore Development or both, the fact is that Claiborne Seier on behalf of his brother Al’s entity was interacting with Balch & Bingham six-months before Al Seier pulled a gun on Newsome.
Balch partner Retherford works in the Creditors Rights & Bankruptcy practice at Balch. And who worked alongside Retherford?
None other than Clark A. Cooper, the alleged mastermind of the Newsome Conspiracy Case who was fired in March of 2017 and is now selling mattresses.
This was more than a simple “instrument” or transaction. This appears to be the birthplace of the Newsome Conspiracy Case located delightfully next to a septic tank of perjury.
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. Newsome asked the unidentified man to please move and to enter his car. Newsome had a pistol on his side and at the time he had the right-to-carry the arm. 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.
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. On March 3, 2017, Balch & Bingham fired Cooper.
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.)
Obstruction of Justice and Phone Records
A letter sent to AT&T in early 2016 appears to have been sent to prevent phone records from being released to Newsome’s legal team. The claims in the letter justifying the withholding of information are knowingly 100% false: there was no objection filed at the time and no valid court order was needed to release the information.
Perjury? Some think so while others say it appears to be an intentional obstruction of justice.
The signer of that letter is Robert M. Ronnlund, an attorney at Scott, Sullivan, Streetman, and Fox, P.C. who is defending co-conspirator Claiborne Seier – brother of Al Seier who pulled the gun on Newsome at his office and was found guilty by a Shelby County District Judge of menacing after a trial on the matter.
We learned Ronnlund’s wife, Millicent, worked as a partner for Balch & Bingham when he wrote the letter in early 2016. [She left Balch at the end of 2017 in order to become General Counsel for one of the divisions of Southern Company – Balch’s #1 client.]
The act raised many questions:
- Why would Ronnlund, who represents alleged co-conspirator Claiborne Seier in the matter, be writing to AT&T about another co-conspirator’s (John W. Bullock) phone numbers?
- How would Ronnlund know all the phone numbers associated with the other alleged co-conspirator?
- Is Balch in any way funding or paying for Seier’s defense? Bullock’s defense?
With what was learned in the Oliver Robinson Bribery Trial, no one knows if the letter was ghost-written by a Balch attorney or Ronnlund directly.
The AT&T letter, now sealed and hidden from public scrutiny, exemplifies conduct unbecoming of a lawyer who graduated magna cum laude from the University of Alabama, and demonstrates unequivocally that allegations of perjury or criminal acts are warranted.
Sealing of Civil Action
Without a hearing, nor even a notice, Judge Carole Smitherman appears to have done what Balch, the co-conspirators, and their legal counsel wanted: to shut down the public discussion about the Newsome Conspiracy Case.
On August 25, 2017, the entire case was sealed since inception creating a secretive Star Chamber.
Balch & Bingham pushed for the Star Chamber at the height of two federal probes of Balch: one in North Birmingham, the other in Mississippi. Former Balch& Bingham partner Joel I. Gilbert was eventually sentenced to five years in federal prison for his role in the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal.
Schuyler Allen Baker, Jr., Balch’s lead attorney on the Newsome Conspiracy Case, donated thousands of dollars to BIZPAC, a political action committee funded in part by Balch partners. BIZPAC funneled over $15,000 in campaign contributions to Judge Smitherman.
Smitherman has created a Star Chamber where secret proceedings can move forward and the public has no knowledge of the alleged criminal, unscrupulous, and perjuring acts by Balch and others.
And sealing a case from the inception for no real reason, without a hearing is unprecedented. As the Federal Judicial Center writes, “Sealing of judicial records is not considered appropriate if it is done merely to protect parties from embarrassment.”
Interestingly, according to Alacourt.com, some cases are sealed with the codes JU (juvenile) or YO (youth offender). But the Newsome Conspiracy Case was slammed shut in its entirety.
Balch & Bingham may have wanted to demonstrate the enormous power and influence they have over Smitherman and the judicial proceedings in Alabama. Instead, Balch & Bingham appears to have shown the public what money and influence peddling can buy: your own, private, secret Star Chamber.
Alleged Alteration of Evidence
Robert M. Ronnlund, the Birmingham attorney who appears to have engaged in alleged criminal obstruction of justice by dispatching a bogus letter to AT&T, looks like he engaged in additional shenanigans that raise serious if not damning questions about professional conduct.
After Newsome was wrongly targeted and falsely arrested, the criminal case against him collapsed and it was dismissed with prejudice. The dismissal and release order clearly states the matter would be dismissed with prejudice.
When Ronnlund filed his pleading for his client, the dismissal and release order was obscured by a court stamp. Ronnlund had the audacity to falsely write in his pleading that Newsome “pled guilty to and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.”
Newsome never pled guilty. Newsome never entered into a deferred prosecution agreement.
Bogus Verizon Deposition?
The alleged co-conspirators had fought releasing detailed phone records but in late June of 2017 Newsome’s legal team received them, combed through them, and found that all defendants were connected through the prepaid Verizon cell number (205) 410-1494. The conspiracy was confirmed because of that number; that number is one of the main pieces of evidence in this alleged conspiracy.
The night before Newsome’s false arrest in 2013, there appears to have been a 32-minute conversation on that phone line. Corrupt law enforcement may have been involved.
A truly embarrassing moment, Balch & Bingham attorneys foolishly alleged in open court in July of 2017 that the calls were all from a telemarketer —acknowledging that the co-conspirators are all linked to a single cell phone number.
In late July of 2017, a filing including a highly questionable Calera (Alabama) Police Department document, a new narrative arose: that the (205) 410-1494 number was not a cell phone but a “routing switch.”
During the latter part of the last week of July of 2017, it looked like Verizon’s records of the cell number were inaccessible (allegedly due to law enforcement.)
Then a notice of a questionable deposition with a Verizon corporate representative (occurring with NO SUBPOENA and less than 48 hours’ notice) was filed on Thursday afternoon, July 27, 2017.
NO subpoena for Verizon was ever filed with the court.
After the sealed deposition with Verizon took place on Monday July 31, 2017, Balch filed a motion to dismiss Newsome’s amended complaint calling the cell phone number allegation a “falsity,” and Judge Carole Smitherman, without a hearing, signed the order.
In less than a week, the key witness— (205) 410-1494— was assassinated, cremated, and buried.
The video-taped sealed deposition supposedly took place at a Regus Center (a rent by the hour office space facility) in Bedminster, New Jersey – not far from Verizon’s Offices at 9:00 a.m. Eastern on Monday, July 31st.
That raised a huge red flag because Verizon has the facilities and technology to do depositions on their premises.
- Was the July 31, 2017 Verizon deposition in New Jersey bogus or not and was the person testifying was truly a person sanctioned to do so or not?
- Was the person testifying truly who he or she said they were or could it have been an imposter?
- Is corrupt law enforcement working with the co-conspirators across state lines?
- Have records and information stored about the prepaid cell number 205-410-1494 internally at Verizon been intentionally manipulated, changed, modified, or destroyed?
If you call the alleged “routing switch,” you will hear a recording that says that the Verizon wireless number “has been changed, disconnected, or is no longer in service.”
Questionable Contributions to the Smithermans
We have been reviewing closely the contributions given to the Smithermans. We are talking about contributions to Judge Carole Smitherman AND her husband State Senator Rodger Smitherman.
We looked at several different contributions given to Senator Smitherman after the co-conspirators, including Balch & Bingham, were all linked together in the Newsome Conspiracy Case by a single burner cell phone number in an amended complaint filed on June 30, 2017. We have found several questionable contributions.
- Alabama Power provided $2,500 to Senator Rodger Smitherman on July 26, 2017. The PAC was run at the time by a former Balch partner, Alexia Borden. On July 31, Balch filed a motion to strike the amended Newsome case from late June. A hearing was set for August 31, 2017, but Judge Carole Smitherman, without a hearing, approved the motion to strike on August 2 – before Newsome could even file a responsive pleading and 29 days before the hearing she had scheduled on the motion, a miscarriage of justice and what appears to be an alleged quid pro quo in exchange for an Alabama Power paid Biloxi trip. In between these events, the Alabama Power contribution and the signed order to strike, Smitherman apparently joined her husband on a junket to Biloxi, Mississippi. According to his expenditure reports, he spent the Alabama Power contribution in order to attend the Southern Legislative Conference between July 29 through August 2, 2017. A review of the photos on the SLC site seem to show that neither Smitherman attended any of the events.
- In mid-August of 2017, Sharyn Lawson, the wife of the gentleman who had pulled a gun on Burt Newsome, was deposed. She is the sister-in-law of one of the alleged co-conspirators. Her son was also deposed. Both of them were represented by the esteemed managing partner at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, D. Leon Ashford. On or about August 31, 2017, the sealing of the entire Newsome Case since its inception and the creation of a Star Chamber where court proceedings are done with no public access or information available were put into effect. On that very same day, Senator Smitherman listed receiving a donation from Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton for $2,500, according to campaign disclosure reports.Sharyn Lawson, a former paralegal at Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton, worked for the law firm for decades. No wonder she and her son were represented by the managing partner. A review of 131 contributions made by Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton since 2013 shows this is the first contribution they made to Senator Smitherman, according to the state’s digital records.Six months later, on February 6, 2018. Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton made their first contribution ever to Judge Smitherman directly for $500, according to state digital records.
- Three $5,000 contributions were made by NEWPAC to Senator Smitherman on November 1, 2017, on December 4, 2017 and on April 4, 2018. NEWPAC is run by Clark D. Fine, a former attorney at Balch & Bingham. The two major (and only) contributors in 2017 to NEWPAC were Protective Life Corp. and Great Southern Wood Preserving. Andrew Buck, the Senior Associate Counsel and Vice President at Protective Life, was a partner at Balch & Bingham for 12 years. Great Southern Wood Preserving is a client of Balch & Bingham and Balch has represented them as lead attorneys in federal court.And just like Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton the $15,000 in donations are a first. A review of the over 120 contributions made by NEWPAC since 2013 shows these are the first contributions they made to Senator Smitherman, according to the state’s digital records.
- Another contribution: $5,000 donated by BIPAC to Senator Smitherman on November 16, 2017. Like NEWPAC, BIPAC is run by Clark D. Fine, a former attorney at Balch & Bingham. On November 15, 2017, BIPAC received $10,000 from Drummond, whose executive was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in the Oliver Robinson Bribery Scandal. The next day, two $5,000 checks were cut: one to Smitherman, and the second to the re-election campaign of Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale. Was it a “pay through” donation, or not? And just like Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton and NEWPAC, this donation to Senator Smitherman is another first-time donor. A review of 126 contributions made by BIPAC since 2013 shows these is the first contribution they made to Smitherman, according to the state’s digital records.
- A third political action committee tied to former Balch & Bingham attorney Clark D. Fine called CANPAC received a $10,000 donation from Drummond on the same day BIPAC did, November 15, 2017. A check for $2,500 was issued to the Rodger Smitherman campaign right after Thanksgiving.
- On December 26, 2017, Judge Carole Smitherman’s husband Senator Rodger Smitherman reported receiving $2,000 from BIZPAC. A few days before that, he received $500 from VPAC. BIZPAC is the same political action committee funded heavily by Balch partners that donated over $15,000 to Judge Smitherman. Balch’s lead attorney appearing before Judge Smitherman in the Newsome Conspiracy Case is Schuyler Allen Baker, Jr. who has donated thousands to BIZPAC in the past.
Balch & Bingham and Ruining a Rival
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.”
Balch 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 Review, The Hope
The CDLU, a national advocacy group and public charity, wants Balch & Bingham to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of the firm, resolve any significant disagreements or entanglements with competitors including Burt Newsome, and apologize to the North Birmingham community for the conduct of convicted felon and former Balch partner Joel I. Gilbert.
“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 17 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,” the CDLU added.