Sunday, December 20, 2009

20 DEC 09: Law of the Land

Silly me -- I thought the Mark Shelnutt trial ended in mid-November. But the repercussions keep coming, one month after his acquittal. And they keep coming from federal court, as opposed to drug suspects doing testimonial ads for Shelnutt's law firm.

Federal Judge Clay Land has caused a stir, by tacking extra years onto the recommended sentence of a drug suspect who agreed to testify against Mark Shelnutt. That suspect simply made bad choices - first by dealing drugs, then by cooperating with federal prosecutors.

The Ledger-Enquirer reports Judge Clay Land now has issued a 19-page order, explaining why he increased the sentence for Shawn "Biscuit" Bunkley. He's the man who claimed to give Mark Shelnutt $125,000 in a Publix parking lot. You'd think Land would be impressed by the fact that such a large amount of money was NOT exchanged outside a Kmart....

Federal prosecutors recommended a sentence of three to four years for Shawn Bunkley - but Judge Clay Land gave him more than nine. The court order actually says "110 months." Sometimes I wonder if the sentences are done that way to help inmates improve their math skills.

But anyway: Judge Clay Land's order admits to "concerns that the judgment of the U.S. Attorney's Office may have become clouded by its zeal to bring down a prominent criminal defense attorney." He seems to think visions of Rudolph Giuliani were dancing in their heads....

The court order also notes the admission of an Assistant U.S. Attorney that he "attempted to surreptitiously tape an interview" with Mark Shelnutt, and lied when Shelnutt asked if taping was underway. As we all know, that sort of conduct should be reserved for TV series such as "Dateline NBC."

An interesting footnote in Judge Clay Land's court order explains why he does NOT mention the prosecutors of Mark Shelnutt by name. He calls them "competent professionals," and says he "does not seek to publicly embarrass any of these public servants...." Of course, the acquittal of Shelnutt already did that.

As for the suspect himself, Judge Clay Land concludes Shawn Bunkley "was a major player in one of the largest drug conspiracies" in Columbus, and deserving of much more than a "modest street-level dealer" sentence. In other words, this Biscuit shouldn't be buttered up - he's closer to toast.

Federal prosecutors had no comment for the newspaper about Judge Clay Land's order. But the order reminds me of another federal trial in Georgia from the 1980's. Prosecutor Bob Barr put Rep. Pat Swindell in prison, then won election to Congress himself. After the Mark Shelnutt trial, it appears Rep. Sanford Bishop's job remains safe for awhile.

But the extended sentence certainly is unusual for federal courts in this part of the country. Clay Land comes across as one of those "activist judges" Republicans love to criticize - only this is a veteran Republican, being tougher on crime than the prosecutors themselves.

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E-MAIL UPDATE: Friday's Streetscape topic provokes a reader to turn off Veterans Parkway, and head down Tenth Street....

Where was "Trees Columbus" when those beautiful Bradford Pears were cut down on the side street by the Springer..I heard 2 stories on this one...#1. Attorneys complained about the leaves on their cars..#2. A house moving company said it could not get a house down the street .. I think both excuses are lame...

We haven't called Trees Columbus for an answer to this. And to be honest, I didn't know any trees had been cut near the Springer Opera House. I try to keep track of local news, but asking me to watch over every tree in the city is asking a bit much.

So let's consider other news from the last official weekend of autumn:

+ The Ledger-Enquirer reported on the Phenix City fireworks letter exchange between Superintendent Larry DiChiara and Councilor Jimmy Wetzel - nearly four weeks after this blog broke the story [24-25 Nov]. One of these days, I'm going to get in the habit of e-mailing press releases to the newspaper.

+ Interstate 185 was narrowed to one lane between St. Mary's Road and Victory Drive for weekend construction. It's a good thing this was delayed until after the Toys for Tots motorcycle ride - because the bikers might have been forced to ride single-file.

+ Atlanta's WSB-TV reported a federal lawsuit accuses Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine of attending the 2007 Academy Awards for free, thanks to an Indiana doctor. That was the year "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar for Al Gore - but I don't recall Oxendine making any statements against him winning.

+ The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a happiness ranking of all 50 states. Alabama came in ninth, while Georgia was 19th. Hmmmm - can you guess which college football team had the better season?

+ Georgia's basketball team edged Illinois 70-67. The game was played in Gwinnett County, yet Bulldog broadcaster Scott Howard estimated the crowd was "nine to one" in favor of Illinois. Maybe Georgia coach Mark Fox needs to teach his team some gymnastics routines to perform at halftime.

+ Alabama was crushed by Kansas State 87-74 in Mobile. In a way, I don't mind this - because this will make the Wildcats overconfident, before my alma mater Kansas crushes them in a month or two.

2009 IN REVIEW: This past year began with many people concerned about the local economy. Synovus announced more than 600 job cuts in January. And when word came out that Columbus Bank and Trust planned to share a building with a Columbus Police precinct, a few people wondered if the police actually were in better financial health.

Columbus Bank and Trust found enough money in January to buy the foreclosed Green Island Hills mansion of Bill Heard. I've heard speculation Heard still lives there - but I certainly couldn't approach a long-time Chevrolet dealer by parking my humble Honda in his driveway.

January also brought a major change at Carmike Cinemas, as Mike Patrick was removed from an executive position. As we mentioned last week, the new leadership seems much more interested in the community -- as if they're trying to be better than some movie stars.

The strangest financial story of January involved a man named Roy Dent, who wanted to drill for oil in Lee and Russell Counties. Amazingly, the cash-poor mayor of Hurtsboro never took him up on it.

The big national news story in January was the inauguration of President Obama - but two Columbus Councilors were barred from the event by security guards. Jerry Barnes and Mimi Woodson have yet to get a make-up visit to see the President. Maybe if they pretended to be married, and stood around a state dinner....

A televised forum on racial diversity brought many Columbus officials together in January. But when State Senator Seth Harp proposed mergers of "historically black" Georgia colleges, he faced resistance. Harp hasn't even able to convince the Fountain City Classic to change next year's matchup, so Albany State faces Brigham Young.

Another racially-tinged issue in January involved the use of a Ford Expedition by Russell County commissioners. It brought the Columbus NAACP President to a commission meeting, which the Phenix City-Russell County NAACP President told this blog was out of line. By mid-year, the Columbus NAACP board agreed with the Phenix City leader - but stopped short of hiring him as a consultant.

Signs of controversy surfaced in Phenix City government during January. Police Chief Brian McGarr announced plans to retire, which critics claimed were made under duress. But give McGarr credit for one thing - he's about the only former Phenix City official who hasn't filed a lawsuit recently.

The mayor of Columbus announced members of a Crime Prevention Commission during January. We're now waiting for the names of a brand-new Crime Prevention Board - and plenty of people are waiting to say "I told you so" if Frank Myers is one of them.

The most curious Columbus crime story in January involved a substitute bus driver, who reportedly joked about shooting students. I never heard if that man was reassigned to Fort Benning, to train the Third Brigade for missions in Iraq.

A cold wave in January caused a two-inch water main to break on Harbison Drive in Columbus. Who could have guessed it would be the start of a record-breaking year for Columbus Water Works? Oops - take the hyphen out between record and breaking....

Columbus came close to claiming a national star in January, when Chasity Hardman was named first runner-up at the Miss America pageant. The last 11 months must have been frustrating for Hardman - waiting for nude photos of Katie Stam to surface on Facebook.

The sports headlines of January included Georgia winning a New Year's football bowl game -- while Alabama lost not only its bowl game, but its men's basketball coach to resignation. Doesn't that seem like 11 years ago, instead of 11 months?

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: As is our custom, our review of 2009 will continue over the next several days.)

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