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Judicial Recusal; Validity of Dismissal & Release Order; Alabama Litigation Accountability Act, § 12-19-270 et seq.

Newsome, et al. v. Cooper, et al.; Newsome, et al. v. Balch & Bingham, et al., [Ms. 1180252; 1180302, Dec. 18, 2020] ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2020). The Court, per curiam, (Parker, C.J.; Bolin, Shaw, Bryan, Mendheim, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Sellers, J., recuses) in consolidated appeals affirms summary judgments entered by the Jefferson County Circuit Court in favor of Cooper, Balch & Bingham, Bullock, Seier and Gottier (“Defendants”) and against attorney Burt W. Newsome and his law practice Newsome Law, LLC (“Newsome”) on claims by Newsome that the Defendants combined together to have Newsome arrested on a false menacing charge to damage his reputation and law practice. Finding that Newsome failed to produce substantial evidence supporting those claims despite extensive discovery, the Jefferson County Circuit Court’s entry of summary judgments in favor of the Defendants was due to be affirmed. Ms. *13. The Court first holds that Newsome failed to demonstrate that the circuit court erred in denying a motion to recuse based upon campaign donations and adverse rulings. Ms. *21.

The Dismissal and Release Order (D&R Order) in the criminal case against Newsome “provided that Newsome’s menacing case would be dismissed if, among other things, he released “all civil and criminal claims stemming directly or indirectly from this case….” Ms. **27-28. The Court concludes that Newsome was bound by the release and rejects his numerous arguments seeking to void the release. Ms. *14. Newsome primarily argued that the release “violates §13A-10-7(a), Ala. Code 1975, which provides that ‘[a] person commits the crime of compounding if he gives or offers to give, or accepts or agrees to accept, any pecuniary benefit or other thing of value in consideration for ... [r]efraining from seeking prosecution of a crime.’” Ms. *28. The Court holds “[t]he Newsome plaintiffs fail to acknowledge, however, that this Court expressly held that ‘[r]elease-dismissal agreements are not invalid per se’ in Gorman v. Wood, 663 So. 2d 921,922 (Ala. 1995), another case in which an individual sought to file a law suit after signing a release in exchange for having his criminal charges dismissed.’” Ibid.

Finally, the Court concludes there was no error in awarding substantial attorney’s fees to Defendants pursuant to §12-19-272(a), Ala. Code 1975, (a trial court “shall” award reasonable attorney’s fees and costs when an attorney or party “has brought a civil action, or asserted a claim therein, … that a court determines to be without substantial justification.”). Ms. **45-46.

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