A Dothan-based news Web site, one with a substantial readership, apparently has been hoodwinked regarding my reporting on the extramarital affair between Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange and his former campaign manager, Jessica Medeiros Garrison.
Rickey Stokes, editor of RickeyStokesNews.com (RSN), reports in a post dated August 17 that our reports at Legal Schnauzer on the Strange/Garrison affair are "highly questionable." Stokes says he reached that conclusion after conversations on Saturday afternoon with two sources, one of which Stokes "would trust with my life in his hands."
The timing of the Stokes report is curious, coming one day after I received a letter from Birmingham attorney Bill Baxley, claiming my reports were false and defamatory and threatening a lawsuit on Garrison's behalf. It becomes even more curious when you consider that Bill Baxley is from Dothan, and his brother (Wade Baxley) and nephew (Hamp Baxley) are lawyers with the Dothan firm of Ramsey Baxley & McDougle. For good measure, Hamp Baxley is Dothan city commissioner for District 6.
The Baxley family clearly is influential in Dothan, and its members are quite capable of grabbing Rickey Stokes' attention. RSN takes pains to mention that its two sources for the August 17 post are "not related to each other." But that doesn't mean that at least one of them isn't related to Bill Baxley.
In fact, we would pretty much bet the ranch--if we owned one--that one of Rickey Stokes' sources is related to Bill Baxley. We further would bet that Stokes' source did not reveal to the newsman that Bill Baxley represents Jessica Garrison and had sent me a threatening letter just one day earlier.
Did the source of RSN's post reveal that he, as someone likely related to Bill Baxley, had a vested interest in trying to undermine my reporting? My guess is that the answer is no.
Sadly, that means Rickey Stokes and his readers probably have been the victims of a con job. Who might have participated in the con job? Well, let's look to an August 15 RSN post about Wade Baxley's appointment as a special master in the ongoing forfeiture case involving the seizure of cash and electronic-bingo equipment at Center Stage Alabama in Houston County. The seizure, of course, was conducted by the office of . . . Luther Strange.
Stokes notes that Judge Mike Conaway has appointed Wade Baxley to count money and help resolve a dispute about the amount seized at Center Stage. From the RSN report:
Judge Conaway wants the money counted. That is what Dothan Attorney Wade Baxley is under order to do. He is to travel to Montgomery Alabama and count the money. Baxley is the brother of former Attorney General Bill Baxley. He is one of the senior attorneys who practices in Dothan and highly respected.
Let's follow the trail here: In an August 15 report, Rickey Stokes describes Wade Baxley as "highly respected." In an August 17 post, Rickey Stokes describes one of his sources, claiming my reporting on the Strange/Garrison affair is "questionable," as someone "I would trust with my life in his hands."
Could that be one and the same person? I will leave that for individual readers to decide.
While Rickey Stokes questions our reporting, one of the most experienced and respected journalists in the state apparently has no such concerns. Bob Martin cites our reports in writing about the Strange/Garrison affair in the current issue of the Montgomery Independent.
To be sure, the Stokes post of August 17 is a curious piece of work. The author can't seem to decide how to characterize my reporting on the Strange/Garrison affair. Let's consider some of the phrases he uses. (I am quoting them here verbatim, with no editing for grammar or spelling; first, it should be noted that Stokes identifies me as "Robert" Shuler.)
* "The articles in the Legal Schnauzer we have come to learn are very questionable as to the truthfulness and accuracy.
* " . . . there is no evidence what so ever that the article in the Legal Schnauzer was anything other than questionable. No evidence any truth to the allegations."
* " . . . my research and conversations, appear that Jessica Medeiros Garrison is a victim of someone wanting to use her to discredit Luther Strange."
* "Never do you have to use a tactic like that to discredit a politician. They do it enough themselves without involving people on something that all evidence appears to be as false and untrue."
* "I do not know Jessica Medeiros Garrison and if I have ever met or spoke with her, I do not know it. . . . She worked in the Strange campaign. And from what I have learned as I have spoke to people who do know her, she is a hard worker that is aggressive and attempts to succeed at what she takes on. . . . When the evidence points otherwise, it is unfair to her, her son and family or Luther Strange, and Luther Strange’s wife and family, to make up something that is not true."
Stokes concludes with this pearl:
The truth is the truth, and there is no reason or need to lie about the truth.If someone can figure out what that means, don't hesitate to clue me in.
Notice that Stokes goes from describing my reports as "questionable," to saying they are supported by "no evidence," to labeling them as "false and untrue," to asserting that it is "unfair" for me to "make up something that is not true."
Why are we to trust what Rickey Stokes tells us? Because someone Stokes would trust "with my life in his hands" told him. What information did this person impart to convince Stokes my reporting is "false and untrue" (as opposed to being just "false" or just "untrue)? Stokes doesn't tell us.
Is the source connected to Bill Baxley, the lawyer who sent me a threatening letter on behalf of Jessica Garrison? Stokes doesn't tell us that, either. (Update: A source tells Legal Schnauzer that one of Stokes' sources, in fact, was Bill Baxley.)
I appreciate the fact that Rickey Stokes appears to be a hard-working guy who has built a nice audience for his Web site. But methinks he, and his readers, have been conned on this one.