1 month ago

Ala. Supreme Court: Jefferson County Probate Court ‘egregiously violated’ due-process rights of philanthropist Joann Bashinsky

The Supreme Court of Alabama on Thursday released a unanimous, scathing opinion outlining that the Jefferson County Probate Court “egregiously violated” the “basic due-process rights” of Joann Bashinsky, heiress to the Golden Flake fortune and one of the state’s most beloved philanthropists.

As previously reported by Yellowhammer News, Bashinsky has been deprived of controlling her own assets, managing her own personal affairs and making her own legal decisions since October due to orders issued then by recently retired Jefferson County Presiding Probate Judge Alan King, a Democrat.

This came after former allies and employees of Bashinsky, the wife of Golden Flake’s founder, allegedly moved to try seizing the fortune – currently estimated to be worth $200 million – through having her declared mentally unfit to manage her finances.

RELATED: Bashinsky decries ’evil plan’ to seize Golden Flake fortune, warns Alabamians of threat to elderly

King on October 17 granted an “emergency petition” and appointed a temporary conservator and guardian who took control of Bashinsky’s vast fortune and personal affairs. Affectionally known as “Mama B,” she was removed from being chairman of the board of directors of her family’s company and charitable foundation and has been living on an allowance dictated and controlled by the temporary conservator.

However, in their Thursday opinion, written by Associate Justice Brad Mendheim, the Supreme Court exposed the stunning legal errors that precluded King’s decision. Perhaps the top issue on which the justices focused their 56-page opinion pertained to King removing Bashinsky’s legal team — and not allowing her to replace them — before he made his October ruling.

The Supreme Court ultimately overturned King’s order granting the emergency petition. The justices voided the appointment of a temporary guardian and conservator for Bashinsky, as well as the order disqualifying Bashinsky’s counsel. The Supreme Court ordered the Jefferson County Probate Court “to require the temporary guardian and conservator to account for all of Ms. Bashinsky’s funds and property, and to dismiss the emergency petition.”

Among their disturbing findings, the Supreme Court advised “that no ’emergency’ was presented in [the October emergency hearing].” The opinion later added that “the allegations raised in the emergency petition and the facts presented in the hearing on that petition clearly did not constitute an ’emergency.'”

However, the manner in which the probate court handled the petition and hearing was scrutinized even more.

For example, although deemed an “ultimately harmless error” in the opinion, the Supreme Court noted that Bashinsky was not properly served with notice of the emergency petition.

Incredibly, King contended, according to the opinion, that no notice is even required to be provided to the person an emergency petition is filed against and that the subsequent emergency hearing on said petition may be held ex parte. This means that, in King’s view, not only does the individual not have to be present to have their livelihood taken away, that person is not entitled to representation by counsel at a hearing on an emergency petition, either.

“[Representation and case-presentation rights delineated by Alabama law], and Ms. Bashinsky’s basic due-process rights, were egregiously violated, as the probate court treated the proceeding like an ex parte hearing even though Ms. Bashinsky was present,” the opinion advised. “But the problems with the probate court’s disqualification of Ms. Bashinsky’s attorneys extend even beyond basic constitutional due process and the procedures afforded [by specific Alabama law].”

The opinion continued to make a shocking conclusion: King had decided how to rule on the case before even hearing the case, violating “fundamental fairness” along the way.

The probate court disqualified Ms. Bashinsky’s attorneys primarily based upon Rules 1.7 and 1.9 of the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct. Both of those rules expressly state that the conflicts of interest described therein can be waived by the client if the client is made aware of the conflict and still elects to have the attorney continue the representation. Yet, there is no indication that the probate court asked Ms. Bashinsky at any point during the October 17, 2019, hearing whether she was aware of her attorneys’ alleged conflicts of interest. This fact suggests that the probate court had already decided that Ms. Bashinsky was not competent to make her own decisions because the court assumed for itself the duty of determining that the alleged conflicts could not be waived. In other words, the probate court’s disqualification of Ms. Bashinsky’s counsel at the outset of the October 17, 2019, hearing indicated prejudgment of the very question at issue in that hearing: Whether Ms. Bashinsky’s competence was sufficiently in question to warrant appointment of a temporary guardian and conservator.

Moreover, the manner in which the probate court handled the issue of the motion to disqualify Ms. Bashinsky’s attorneys — granting the motion and then choosing to proceed directly with the hearing on the issue of Ms. Bashinsky’s competence — created an unnecessary complication that was highlighted by the probate court’s subsequent scheduling of a hearing in January 2020 to discuss how Ms. Bashinsky’s new attorneys were to be selected. That is, because the probate court disqualified Ms. Bashinsky’s attorneys and then declared Ms. Bashinsky to be incompetent, it raised the specter that she cannot enter into a contract to hire new counsel to represent her interests in this matter. This complication would have been avoided if the probate court had followed basic procedures of due process and fundamental fairness with respect to Ms. Bashinsky.

The opinion further said that “Bashinsky’s constitutional and statutory rights of due process were also violated through a deprivation of counsel and a lack of opportunity to present evidence and argument before the probate court.”

It was not immediately clear if this was the first and only case in which King oversaw these types of due process violations. He was a probate judge for almost 20 years, just retiring this spring. His successor was appointed earlier this week by Governor Kay Ivey.

A permanent petition also attempting to declare Bashinsky not mentally fit to manage her own finances and affairs is still pending before the probate court; that petition has not been acted upon by the probate court since being filed, so the Supreme Court wrote that there was nothing they could possibly reverse regarding the permanent petition at this time.

It should be noted that Bashinsky previously released a letter from her personal physician, Dr. Robert Spiegel, stating that she does “does not have dementia nor psychiatric issue.”

“She has had a recent side effect to a medication. She is competent to make decisions for herself,” the doctor wrote.

According to a previous email from Bashinsky, she has additionally undergone psychological testing from renowned University of Alabama psychologist Dr. Rebecca S. Allen, who also reportedly concluded that Bashinsky does not suffer from dementia.

In a statement to Yellowhammer News reacting to the Thursday Supreme Court opinion, Bashinsky said, “I am happy and feel vindicated by the Supreme Court’s ruling. It’s sad that two former employees could use our court system to steal my freedom. It should have never happened and anyone who does this should be held accountable.”

You can read the full opinion here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 mins ago

Saban: ‘Players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home’

University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban on Monday afternoon weighed in on the player-led #WeWantToPlay movement to save the 2020 college football season.

In an interview with ESPN, Saban commented on the movement that is in part led by Crimson Tide star running back Najee Harris.

The movement, less than a day old, has quickly gained steam, garnering public reactions already by President Donald Trump, other prominent elected officials across the nation and many in and around college football.

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Speaking to ESPN, Saban pushed back on the notion that student-athletes will inherently be safer if the season is not played.

“I want to play, but I want to play for the players’ sake, the value they can create for themselves,” Saban said.

“I know I’ll be criticized no matter what I say, that I don’t care about player safety,” he outlined. “Look, players are a lot safer with us than they are running around at home. We have around a 2% positive ratio on our team since the Fourth of the July. It’s a lot higher than that in society. We act like these guys can’t get this unless they play football. They can get it anywhere, whether they’re in a bar or just hanging out.”

The legendary coach noted that the SEC has already pushed back the start of its season to September 26 to allow the fall semester to resume before final decisions are made on football.

“It’s going to be a challenge when the other students get on campus, and I get that,” Saban remarked. “But we really don’t know what that entails until it happens. It’s a big reason we pushed the season back, to assess that, which is the prudent way to do it.”

Bama senior All-American offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood also spoke with ESPN, strongly stating his position. He underscored that players need to have a voice as conferences and schools make decisions.

“There’s a lot of noise and bad stuff out there about playing football with the virus going on, but I haven’t really seen anything about what the players want,” Leatherwood told ESPN. “We’ve been grinding all summer, and you don’t want it to be all for nothing.

“The story that needs to be written is that we want to play,” he added. “We take risks every single day, especially in this sport, and life shouldn’t stop. If there is a chance for long-term effects if you get it and people don’t feel comfortable, then don’t play. Everybody is entitled to their right. But we want to play, and we’re going to play.”

Harris, speaking to ESPN, praised Saban’s leadership.

“Coach Saban listens to his players and wants to hear from us first,” the running back advised. “He told us that none of this is about him, but it’s about us. He wants to hear our concerns, and we made it clear that we want to play and feel like Alabama is doing everything they can to make sure we can play safely.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth backed Saban on the matter in a tweet.

“I’m with Coach Saban on this one. The player are much safer on campus and at practice than back home. For the players sake, let them play,” he commented.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

1 hour ago

Birmingham, Huntsville rated best business climates among cities their size

Business Facilities magazine has ranked Birmingham and Huntsville as two of the most business-friendly cities in the United States.

Birmingham was ranked as the number one most business-friendly mid-sized city, and Huntsville took the number one ranking for small cities.

The same magazine ranked Alabama as the fourth-most business-friendly state in the nation, behind Texas, Virginia and Tennessee.

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Ed Castile, director of Alabama Industrial Development Training (AIDT), told Made in Alabama why he believes Alabama received good grades in business rankings.

Castile said it is because the state has “an available workforce with an extraordinary work ethic, world-class companies that choose Alabama and hire our citizens, a business-focused Governor and Legislature who are totally engaged in our workforce strategies, and a Secretary of Commerce who helped create the Accelerate Alabama strategy that is the foundation of all our work.”

Business Facilities is a national publication that targets the industrial development and site selection industry. It has been publishing for more than 5o years.

“Alabama, home to thriving automotive and aerospace sectors, continues to expand its reach,” the publication wrote about the Yellowhammer State.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95

1 hour ago

Trump, Cavanaugh support players’ #WeWantToPlay movement to save college football season

President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted his support for the #WeWantToPlay movement, of which University of Alabama star running back Najee Harris is a prominent leader.

The movement, brought to light after a Sunday evening conference call among players involved, is attempting to save the 2020 college football season.

The Big 10 and Pac-12 on Monday seemed poised to formally cancel their fall seasons, but the other Power 5 conferences have not made decisions. Reports suggest the SEC and ACC are most likely to play football this year, although Oklahoma and Texas are pushing other Big 12 teams to join them in supporting playing.

After Yellowhammer News reported on the fluid situation and Harris’ leadership on Monday, President Donald Trump came out in support of the movement.

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The president tweeted, “The student-athletes have been working too hard for their season to be cancelled. #WeWantToPlay.”

Trump was joined by one of his Alabama Trump Victory campaign co-chairs, Public Service Commission President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, in supporting this player-led effort.

“The college football season needs to happen,” Cavanaugh told Yellowhammer News on Monday afternoon. “Our players and coaches have put in so much hard work to get to this point. Communities and small businesses across Alabama and the rest of the country depend on these games being played. We need to continue taking precautions, but we also need to get on with our lives. Now is not the time to back down.”

While not a member of a Power 5 conference, Troy Trojans head coach Chip Lindsey on Monday also came out in support of the #WeWantToPlay cause.

“I met with the leaders of our team today & the response was unanimous, #WeWantToPlay,” the former Auburn assistant coach tweeted. “The work they have put in on the field & to follow all of the safety protocols must be commended. They deserve the chance to see their work payoff with a season; I stand with & support them.”

The Sun Belt Conference, of which Troy is a member, is currently planning on a schedule that features eight conference games, also allowing up to four non-conference contests.

The SEC has adopted a conference-only, 10-game schedule for this season. Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday tweeted, “We know concerns remain. We have never had a [football] season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so…every day.”

UPDATE 2:20 p.m.

University of Alabama Director of Athletics Greg Byrne has weighed in.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

Crimson Tide star helps spearhead effort to save college football season

University of Alabama running back Najee Harris is a leader in the #WeWantToPlay movement to save the 2020 college football season.

On Monday, the Big 10 canceled its fall football season, according to reports, and the Pac-12 is expected to follow their lead.

That leaves the SEC, ACC and Big 12 as the remaining Power 5 conferences yet to make a decision on playing their fall schedules.

While some of the national (and in-state) sports media world continues to cheer the death of the season, key players from Power 5 schools on Sunday jumped on a conference call to try and rescue the situation.

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ESPN reported that the Crimson Tide’s Harris was one of the players on the call, along with the likes of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

During that call, the players came up with a list of key takeaways to share with the college football universe. That list has been turned into a graphic and shared widely on social media by players since the call.

Former Bama quarterback Greg McElroy reacted to the players’ efforts in a tweet on Monday.

“All weekend, it felt like the 2020 College Football Season was doomed,” he said. “But, the #WeWanttoPlay movement has given it new life. Ultimately, I don’t know if it will make a difference, but it feels like the players are the only people that can make a season happen.”

Kristen Saban Setas, daughter of head coach Nick Saban, also advocated for the season to occur in a tweet of her own.

If the SEC ultimately forges ahead with a season (with or without the ACC and Big 12), there could also be the question of further conference alignment changes — at least for this fall.

One Ohio State player has suggested the Buckeyes bail on the Big 10 and play in the SEC this year, and Notre Dame has already signed up with the ACC in an effort to preserve their season.

Even more movement is expected this week in the college football world, with the SEC, ACC and Big 12 each set to hold regularly scheduled meetings of their directors of athletics.

Reports on Monday morning said that Texas and Oklahoma are the Big 12 schools trying to save their fall season, however the SEC could be looking to scoop up those schools if the Big 12 as a whole decides not to play this year.

Right now, the SEC has adopted a conference-only, 10-game schedule for this season.

Alabama is scheduled to play homes games versus Auburn, Georgia, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Texas A&M, along with contests at Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee.

Auburn has home games against Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee and Texas A&M, as well as games at Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and South Carolina.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

4 hours ago

Alabama pre-apprenticeship program launched to create better pathways to workforce

The Alabama Office of Apprenticeship (AOA) announced Monday a new program for those seeking to develop marketable skills and enter the workforce quickly.

The pre-apprenticeship initiative will use “a combination of curriculum, on-the-job training and simulated work experiences” in order to “allow a person to gain access to a specific industry and improve existing skills,” according to a release from AlabamaWorks.

Individuals applying for the pre-apprenticeship must include a signed memorandum of agreement with a registered apprenticeship program for the application to be considered by the AOA.

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The application instructions available on the agency’s website indicate that those applying for a pre-apprenticeship have an amount of flexibility in constructing the experience they will undergo as part of the pre-apprenticeship.

AlabamaWorks says that pre-apprenticeship programs also help employers, because they provide “pre-screened, ready-to-work employees who have already begun their training.”

“A major focus of the AOA right now is to help employers think beyond these uncertain times and use this moment as an opportunity to invest in their own future success,” Josh Laney, director of AOA remarked in a statement.

“Ultimately our economy will rebound and the companies who are investing in training programs now will be the ones poised to capitalize when it does,” he continued.

Laney concluded, “Apprenticeships are also going to serve as critical vehicles for people to access the training they need to become re-employed in higher skilled and more durable occupations.”

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95