• Donald V. Watkins

Joe Perkins Sued for Extortion, Racketeering by Ex-Matrix CEO

Updated: 6 days ago

Copyrighted and Published by: Donald V. Watkins

September 12, 2021


A Commentary


Twelve days after a Tuscaloosa County, Alabama Circuit Court judge awarded Joe Perkins and his company, Matrix, LLC, a highly questionable $1.5 million summary judgment against me and my law firm (Donald V. Watkins P.C.), Perkins, himself, was sued by Jeff Pitts, Matrix's longtime Chief Executive Officer and President. In a lawsuit filed in Duval County, Florida Circuit Court, Pitts alleged that Perkins: (a) tried to extort $4.5 million from him, (b) abused the judicial process in an Alabama case Perkins filed against Pitts on July 23, 2021, and (c) engaged in a pattern and practice of criminal racketeering activities.


Perkins is known on the Alabama political scene as a long-time "dirty tricks" operator. On his website, Perkins promotes Matrix as a communications firm that provides political consultations and crisis management. Now, Perkins is involved in a public relations and legal crisis of his own -- one that has the potential to damage the corporate and professional reputations of his clients.


For the first time, Pitts has publicly accused Perkins of operating an ongoing criminal enterprise and has detailed Perkins' racketeering activities in his court complaint. The ramifications of Pitts' RICO allegations are earthshaking for Perkins, Matrix and the company's clients.


Perkins Began His Political Work With AEA


Perkins started his career working for the Alabama Education Association (AEA) when Dr. Paul Hubbert led the organization and it was considered one of the most powerful political players in the state. Under Dr. Hubbert's leadership, AEA played political hardball and controlled the state's Democratic party, governor's office, legislature, and judicial system for decades.


Over the years, Perkins grew Matrix into a political powerhouse. He expanded the firm's client base to include Alabama Power Company and other influential organizations and people on the political scene. By 2014, Perkins was Number 15 on Yellowhammer News' list of "Power and Influence" players in Alabama. The Mobile Press Register labeled Matrix as "the closest thing Alabama politics has to a non-government secret agency."


Perkins' Influence Within Alabama's Judicial System


Many state court judges fear Perkins and often rule in his favor, or for the benefit of his clients, because Matrix can single-handedly fund an opposition candidate to run against any judge he disfavors. In Alabama, this form of "justice" is called "homecooking" the opposing litigant.


On August 20, 2021, I was "homecooked" when Tuscaloosa County Circuit Court Judge Allen May awarded Perkins and Matrix a $1.5 million summary judgment (i.e., a judgment rendered without conducting the jury trial we requested). Judge May took this action even though the material facts relating to Perkins' defamation claims were disputed in a signed court Declaration that was filed in the case on April 17, 2018. On April 27, 2020, my attorney incorporated this Declaration into his written response in opposition to Perkins' motion for summary judgment.


In order to rule in favor of Perkins and Matrix, Judge May had to: (a) deny my motion to transfer the case to Jefferson County Circuit Court, which was the proper venue for litigating this case, (b) ignore the fact that discovery had not been completed in the case, (c) disregard a separate Declaration signed by my attorney in which he described the logistical difficulties he encountered in trying to meet with me to mount our defense because I was incarcerated in a locked-down prison environment and he was prohibited from traveling in and out of Alabama by gubernatorial shelter-in-place mandates during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, (d) reconcile material facts that were disputed in the case, which is not permissible in a summary judgment proceeding, and (e) relieve Perkins and Matrix, who are "public figures" within the meaning of the 1964 landmark case of New York Times v. Sullivan and its progeny, from the extremely high burden of proof in defamation cases involving such figures.


Judge May's actions in this regard are highly questionable and warrant further review by higher courts, particularly in light of the abuse of process, extortion, and RICO allegations detailed in Jeff Pitts' recent lawsuit.


"Homecooking" is Legendary in Alabama's Judicial System


Alabama is a trailblazer in the use of defamation lawsuits to chill the First Amendment freedom of speech of political progressives, independent journalists, and social justice activists. The famous New York Times v. Sullivan case arose from the concerted efforts of white Alabama elected officials and state court judges to use defamation lawsuits to quash local, state, and national support for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1960s civil rights movement.


Not only did state officials indict Dr. King on two felony counts of perjury in connection with his state tax returns for 1956 and 1958, but they also joined local officials in naming Dr. King and four other prominent black ministers -- Reverends Ralph Abernathy, Solomon S. Seay, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and Joseph Lowery -- as defendants in their defamation case against the New York Times. The state court trial judge "homecooked" the defendants during the trial. An all-white jury ruled against all of the defendants, who were ordered to pay a $500,000 judgment.


The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the jury verdict and judgment. The defendants thereafter appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.


On March 9, 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling because the plaintiffs in the case, who were public officials, failed to prove that the defendants acted with "actual malice" in publishing the statements at issue or that the statements were published with a "reckless disregard of whether [they were] true or false." In subsequent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court imposed this same high burden of proof on "public figures" like Joe Perkins and Matrix when they sue members of the press and public for defamation.


Judge Allen May engaged in the same old fashion "homecooking" in Perkins' case that was viewed with disfavor in New York Times v. Sullivan. Additionally, Judge May closed his eyes to Alabama's reporter shield law by ignoring the part of my signed Declaration that stated, "[i]n researching, writing, and publishing the news articles and commentaries in question, I used confidential sources of information that are protected from disclosure under Alabama's reporter shield statute. I believed these sources were credible and reliable at the time each article was published. As a journalist, I never had any cause to believe that the statements published in the news articles and commentaries at issue were false in any respects."


Judge May also ruled against my law firm, even though my firm has no Facebook page and did not write or endorse any of the editorial views expressed in my articles.


The articles and commentaries involved in Perkins' lawsuit concerned important issues of public interest in Alabama and the nation, including: (a) cyber attacks on social media platforms, which I reported to Facebook and Wikipedia, (b) the smearing of University of Alabama honors student/reported rape victim Megan Rondini, her family, and me, (c) an attack ad against Megan Rondini and her family that was published in July 2017 in the Tuscaloosa News, (d) coordinated efforts by T.J. Bunn a/k/a "Sweet T" (the designated rape "suspect" in the 2017 Megan Rondini police report) and his Tuscaloosa allies to obstruct the truth and justice of what happened to her on the night of July 1, 2015, (e) how rape victims are re-victimized by allies of the rape suspect, and (f) other topics related to the rape report Megan Rondini made to Tuscaloosa County sheriff deputies during the early morning of July 2, 2015.


Megan Rondini's rape case was originally reported in a June 22, 2017 BuzzFeed article titled, "A College Student Accused A Powerful Man of Rape. Then She Became a Suspect."


The Road to Fair Justice in Alabama is Long and Difficult


The cast of characters connected to the Perkins/Matrix lawsuit are all white and are all from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Judge Allen May is a longtime Tuscaloosa attorney who was appointed to the bench by former Governor Robert Bentley, who resides in Tuscaloosa. Bentley handpicked May for his judgeship eleven months before he was forced to resign his governorship and pleaded guilty to ethics violations. My exclusive series of investigative articles titled, "Forbidden Love" and "Executive Betrayal," which were first published in September 2015, eventually led to Bentley's resignation and criminal conviction. These articles exposed Bentley's widespread public corruption, highly questionable "dark-money" transactions, and torrid love affair with his married senior political adviser, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Mason is also a Tuscaloosa native, as is Joe Perkins.


To correct the manifest injustice in Judge May's ruling, I must appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court, just as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the other defendants did in the New York Times case. Alabama's Supreme Court was all-white in 1964 and is all-white today, even though the state has a 26.8% black population.


Fortunately, my appeal will give me legal standing to challenge the all-white composition of the Alabama Supreme Court, whose nine members are chosen in a statewide "at-large" election scheme, as opposed to elections from judicial districts that are designed to achieve racial diversity on the Supreme Court. I will invite the Department of Justice (DOJ) to join me in this legal challenge. I expect the DOJ will also challenge the all-white membership that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and Alabama Court of Civil Appeals have had since their inception.


Epilogue


The appeal in Perkins' defamation case against me comes at a time when he is being accused of: (a) attempting to extort $4.5 million from Jeff Pitts, (b) abuse of the Alabama judicial process, and (c) engaging in various RICO activities. It seems that Perkins, who is the master of dirty tricks, has finally run out of tricks. It also appears that Perkins has exposed his clients to a law enforcement RICO investigation and provided me with a viable means to challenge the legally vulnerable all-white composition of the Alabama Supreme Court.


Finally, I will also do my best to encourage the DOJ in Washington (and not its Birmingham office) to properly and thoroughly investigate all of the parties who aided and abetted Joe Perkins' dirty tricks operations in Alabama. The Birmingham U.S. Attorney's office should not participate in this investigation because this branch of the DOJ still employs federal prosecutor Lloyd Peeples, who is as soiled as Joe Perkins.



IMAGE: Joe Perkins of Matrix LLC sued by his business partner, Jeff Pitts

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