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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Judge Frank H. McFadden: The Case of Douglas L. Pope

Updated: Sep 5, 2022

By: Donald V. Watkins

January 16, 2022

An Editorial Opinion

On December 30, 2021, I published an editorial titled, "Joe Perkins: The Political Reincarnation of Alabama Power's Walter F. Johnsey." In the article, I described how Chief U.S. District Court Judge Frank H. McFadden (Birmingham) "fixed" the high-profile 1980 "Coal Fraud Trial" to free Alabama Power Company and Drummond Company top executives from federal RICO conspiracy, fraud and and price-fixing charges.

McFadden was rewarded for his rescue of these corporate executives from the firm grip of federal prosecutors by industrialist and former U.S. Postmaster General Winton Blount. After the last two defendants -- Walter Johnsey and state Senator Joe Fine -- were freed, McFadden resigned his federal judgeship and took a cushy, pre-arranged, high-paying job as Blount, Inc.'s general counsel.

Years later, Broward Segrest, the lead prosecutor in the "Coal Fraud Trial" case, privately confided in me that McFadden had "fixed" the case. Blount's son, Winton Blount, III, also told me about his dad's quid pro quo arrangement with McFadden during a meeting we had while the younger Blount was running for governor of Alabama. Another top executive at Blount, Inc, who was a personal friend of mine, also confirmed McFadden's improper actions in a private conversation with me.

While researching and writing the Perkins-Johnsey article, I recalled one of my many judicial experiences with Judge McFadden when he was in full field-general mode for white supremacy in Alabama. I discussed this experience in two comments I posted under the Perkins-Johnsey article. I should have presented it as a stand-alone article to honor the exceptional courage of my client.

This case involved Mr. Douglas L. Pope, a longtime distinguished educator in Pickens County. This brave man fought racial discrimination against the Pickens County, Alabama school system in the 1970s and endured years of personal humiliation and retribution that no human being should ever have to suffer.

I also met Ms. Maggie Bozeman and Ms. Julia Wilder during Mr. Pope's fight for equal employment opportunity in Pickens County. These two women were courageous warriors for voting rights and equal justice in West Alabama. They fought with Mr. Douglas L. Pope and me, and they protected me from physical harm while I worked on Mr. Pope's case in Aliceville and Carrollton, Alabama. These two women risked their lives every day to help me develop Mr. Pope's case for trial.

Law School Did Not Prepare Me For Judge McFadden's Brand of Judicial Racism

Here is what Mr. Pope and I encountered in Judge McFadden's courtroom during Mr. Pope's trial. It was hardcore judicial racism -- something law school did not prepare me for:

I had several school desegregation cases in Judge Frank H. McFadden's court from 1974 to 1979. McFadden, who grew up on a farm near Oxford, Mississippi during the Great Depression, was openly hostile and nasty to black plaintiffs in his courtroom.

The worst treatment I experienced with McFadden occurred in the school desegregation case of Lee v. Pickens County School System, 563 F. 2d 143 (1977). During the process of implementing court-ordered desegregation of its teachers, staff and students between 1970 and 1973, the Pickens County Board of Education unlawfully demoted Mr. Douglas L. Pope from his principalship at Hopewell High School, where he served with distinction, and assigned him to the Carrollton Annex, which included grades 5-9. The following year, 1972-73, Mr. Pope's school was closed and he was assigned as a classroom teacher in one of the high schools. Mr. Pope's objective qualifications for a high school principalship far exceeded those of all nine white educators who held principalships. In some cases, the white principals did not even have the proper Alabama State Department of Education certification for the job.

I filed suit against the Pickens County Board of Education on behalf of Mr. Pope, who was one of the bravest men I have ever met. Pickens County social justice activists Maggie Bozeman and Julia Wilder helped me prepare the case for trial and they provided a security detail for me in Carrollton and Aliceville, Alabama. For my personal safety, I stayed at Ms. Bozeman's guarded home with her and daughter Puntadeleste.

Alabama's Black Belt region was extremely dangerous for civil rights lawyers and workers. Superintendent William W. Carpenter made a point to show me the "Face in the Window" of the black man who was lynched decades earlier. Lightening struck as this man looked down at the lynch mob that had come to the jail to kill him. It's said the image of his horrified face was permanently embedded in the glass window pane.

Mr. Pope's trial started in 1977. McFadden was the trial judge. He could not stand to look at Mr. Pope or me. For two days, I was killing the Pickens County School System with evidence of intentional discrimination against Mr. Pope. McFadden, who was chief judge in the Northern District of Alabama, tried every judicial trick to gut my case, but the strong and direct evidence of the School System's racial discrimination against Mr. Pope was simply too overwhelming.

McFadden suddenly stopped the trial and directed the lawyers and court reporter to come back in his private chambers. Once we were there, he just stared at me for about two minutes without saying a word. The veins in his red neck were popping. In a highly inappropriate move, McFadden ordered everybody out of his chambers, except me. That's when I knew something really bad was about to happen.

After everybody exited his chambers, McFadden looked me in the eyes and said: "I don't give a shit what your evidence shows. I am not going to put that nigger in a principalship. By the time you appeal my ruling, win on appeal, and the case is remanded to me for further proceedings, Pope will be too old under state law to work in the School System. Now, get out of here!"

My gut told me to put what McFadden said to me in private on the record once I went back into the courtroom. Before the trial restarted, I told McFadden I wanted to put something on the record. He just looked at me in disbelief. I dictated to the court reporter everything McFadden had told me privately. McFadden turned extremely red and was livid. McFadden started banging his gavel and threatened to get physical with me. There was pure hatred in his eyes for Mr. Pope and me.

I won the case on appeal and it was remanded back to McFadden for further proceedings. Mr. Pope never got his principalship because McFadden strung out the case until Mr. Pope reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. In the end, all Mr. Pope won was his accrued back pay.

As for me, I won the endearing love, admiration, and respect of Mr. Douglas L. Pope, Ms. Maggie Bozeman, and Ms. Julia Wilder. We remained close friends until their deaths. I had come face-to-face with evil in a chief federal judge. I was proud that I did not flinch or sell out Mr. Pope, as many lawyers would have done.

Years later, I saw Broward Segrest, the lead prosecutor in the "Coal Fraud Trial." I knew and respected Broward. He told me what really happened with McFadden in the "Coal Fraud Trial." Broward said McFadden was "dirty" and he fixed the case for Alabama Power Company, the Drummond Company, and the other defendants. McFadden's reward for fixing the case was his cushy, high-paying General Counsel's job at Blount, Inc. I was not shocked. Broward's story was later corroborated by Winton Blount's son and a friend of mine who served in a senior executive position at Blount, Inc.

Chief Judge Frank H. McFadden (Birmingham) v. Chief Judge Frank M. Johnson, Jr. (Montgomery)

If it seems like I am being hard on Chief U.S. District Judge Frank H. McFadden in Birmingham, maybe I am. I also had school desegregation cases in Chief U.S. District Judge Frank M. Johnson's courtroom in Montgomery during the same period of time. While McFadden was using his judicial acumen to deprive black litigants of their Constitutional rights, Judge Johnson was catching pure hell from white Alabamians for advancing and protecting our civil rights.

McFadden lived a Mountain Brook life-style on a federal judge's modest salary. Johnson lived in a modest home in a transitional neighborhood. McFadden's hand was always out. Johnson's was not.

Frank Johnson was ostracized by Alabama's white community. This ostracism, and the bullying that went along with it, caused Johnson's only son to commit suicide. Johnson had a cross burned in his front yard. His mother's home was firebombed. Governor Wallace proposed giving Johnson a "barbed-wire enema." In the face of this unrelenting racial hatred, Judge Johnson did more to break down the barriers of racism than any other white federal judge in Alabama.

Today, many federal judges in Alabama tacitly compete to see who among them can screw over the most black litigants in their courts. Some of them have never ruled in favor of a black litigant in any case, and they never will.

IMAGE: Judge Frank McFadden, federal prosecutor Broward Segrest and Winton Blount III

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Jan 16, 2022

I would like your take on the BFI case in which a attorney fee was granted in a zoning case…

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