• Donald V. Watkins

Sealed: What They Did Behind Closed Doors Was Unconscionable

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on October 24, 2021


Early in my criminal case, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Lloyd Peeples and his band of federal prosecutors in Birmingham, Alabama asked the federal court to seal all records and court orders regarding this particular matter. I strenuously objected to this request.


The magistrate assigned to my case, who was a former federal prosecutor in Birmingham, agreed with Peeples and held a closed-door hearing on this matter. Following the hearing, the magistrate granted the order requested by Peeples.


I appealed this order to my trial judge. Following another closed-door hearing, my trial judge also agreed to do what Peeples and his prosecutors wanted.


I complied with the trial court's order. I had no choice.


The order required me to do something that has never been done in the history of American jurisprudence. I did not appeal this order because I did not want to take a chance that the ultra-conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would uphold it, thereby making bad law that would apply to all similarly situated persons in all of the southern states covered by the Court of Appeals.


Throughout the remainder of the trial court proceedings, I was not allowed to mention what was done to me behind closed doors. This matter is now buried deep inside the court records in my case.


Until these court records are unsealed, I am not at liberty to publicly discuss the subject-matter contained in the closed-door proceedings on this motion. Likewise, I was not allowed to mention this court action during my trial.


At the conclusion of my trial, I asked the trial judge to unseal these records so the public could see what was done to me behind closed doors. The judge told me to work it out with the prosecution team. This meant I needed Lloyd Peeples' consent to unseal these records. Of course, Peeples never gave me his consent. The trial judge, who has the power to unseal these records on her own, never did so.


Shocking the Conscience of Americans


Based upon my research, what was done to me behind closed doors on this matter has never been done to any criminal defendant in American history. Even though the trial court proceedings in my case have been over for more than two years, this matter remains sealed to this day.


If and when the court filings pertaining to this motion are unsealed, they will shock the conscious of most conservative, moderate, and progressive Americans. They will also infuriate those Americans who believe in the exercise of their First Amendment right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.


I would have expected this kind of government action in Afghanistan, Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, or some other totalitarian nation. I never thought it could happen in America.


But, it happened in America -- in Alabama. It happened in the "Heart of Dixie" and the "Cradle of the Confederacy."


We must remember that Alabama has always led the nation in suppressing the constitutional rights of its citizens. This is particularly true for women and people of color who have had to climb within the protections of the U.S. Constitution one case at a time.


Alabama is also the state that gave rise to the famous 1964 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case named New York Times v. Sullivan. The New York Times case overturned state court orders that sought to suppress the First Amendment's freedom of the press for news organizations and freedom of speech for civil rights activists.


Lloyd Peeples Led the Assault on This Constitutional Right


Lloyd Peeples signed his name to the prosecution team's controversial and unprecedented motion in my case. Peeples' record on racial matters is well-documented. This record was abysmal when Peeples ran his father's corrugated box business. Likewise, it was abysmal when Peeples was selling pizza by the slice at a failed pizza restaurant he owned and operated in Homewood, Alabama prior to taking the top assistant prosecutor's job in the U.S. Attorney's office in 2017.


Peeples' views on the matter presented in his sealed motion are as abysmal and outside the realm of mainstream thought as his views on racial matters. What is more, the sealed motion demonstrates Peeples' grandiose hypocrisy on this subject.


We must remember that Peeples was once an editor of the student newspaper where he attended college. During his tenure as a newspaper editor at Washington and Lee University, Peeples liberally exercised his First Amendment right to openly oppose increased college admissions for women and minorities at the university.


It should be noted that Peeples chose to attend a university in Lexington, Virginia that is named after Confederate Civil War general Robert E. Lee. On September 8, 2021, Gen. Lee's statue was removed from its public display in Richmond, Virginia, cut into pieces, and hauled away because it paid tribute to a self-professed, notorious racist who committed treason against the United States. After Gen. Lee lost the Civil War to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, he served as president of Washington and Lee for the next five years.


Peeples Does Not Want this Motion to See the Light of Day


By any objective standard, the justification asserted by Peeples for requesting the magistrate and trial judge to undertake the unprecedented action that is contained in the court orders under seal was flimsy, speculative, and misguided, at best. Yet, it was warmly received by the magistrate and trial judge.


Prior to making the motion, the prosecution team had already used its trusted network of unpaid collaborating surrogates to obtain a strategic advantage in the case. These surrogates engaged in the very activity that was the subject of the closed-door hearings. The government's frequent use of this trusted network of local collaborators has been (a) documented in Congressional reports and critically acclaimed books on this subject and (b) confirmed by former federal prosecutors.


The matter presented in the motion likely remains sealed today because President Joe Biden's Department of Justice (DOJ) would be totally embarrassed and humiliated by the prosecution team's motion and the court rulings on this motion. Biden's DOJ has already reined in unbridled prosecutorial actions in this zone of activity in other cases.


The closed-door proceedings and court orders in my case effectively shield a modern-day throwback to the DOJ's old-school COINTELPRO tactics from the 1950s and 1960s. What is more, these tactics happened in the same federal judicial district in Alabama where this kind of conduct thrived among judges, federal prosecutors, and local surrogates during the formal COINTELPRO era.


Closed-Door Court Proceedings Rarely Lead to the Fair Administration of Justice


I have always opposed closed-door court proceedings. They rarely lead to the fair administration of justice. The potential for preferential treatment for one party and the judicial abuse of an opposing party runs high in closed-door proceedings. This is exactly what happened in my case, twice.


The local media in Alabama will not likely ask the court to unseal the motion and court orders referenced in this article because they were complicit with federal prosecutors in the matters addressed in the motion. This is particularly true with respect to AL.com's reporters and columnists, who often serve as unofficial COINTELPRO surrogates for federal prosecutors in Birmingham.


The one good thing about the passage of time is that it tends to unlock the secrets that are hidden behind closed doors. In time, the sun will shine brightly on what happened to me behind closed doors in the Birmingham federal courthouse. When this event occurs, the impact from the shockwaves of what is disclosed will be national in scope and will be felt by everybody who values the First Amendment.




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