Did Hardball Tactics in Divorce Case Lead to Murder?

"Playing hardball" by theilr on flickr
"Playing hardball" by theilr on flickr

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Alabama lawyer Robert Blake Lazenby was murdered on July 27, and authorities have released almost no information about progress in the investigation.

Legal Schnauzer has learned, however, that lawyers for Lazenby in his personal divorce case served curious subpoenas to non parties on July 15 and 18. The subpoenas sought information that seemed to have little or no relevance to matters in the divorce case–and they apparently amounted to hardball tactics in a divorce battle that clearly had grown rancorous since it hit the courts in 2008.

Just nine days after the subpoenas were served–and Lazenby’s lawyers had filed a notice of discovery by interrogatories and requests for production of documents–their client’s body was found in the dining room of his Sylacauga home. He died from multiple gunshot wounds, and his vehicle was found on fire in the Birmingham suburb of Tarrant.

Did the use of rough legal tactics–some might call them abusive–help lead to Blake Lazenby’s murder? If I were a homicide detective on the case, I definitely would be asking that question.

Geanne Elder Lazenby filed for divorce from her attorney husband on October 24, 2008. Blake Lazenby, 54, was a partner in Thornton Carpenter O’Brien Lazenby & Lawrence, perhaps the most prestigious firm in Talladega. It’s common practice for judges in a circuit to recuse themselves from a case involving a lawyer who regularly practices before the court. Judge Jeb Fannin, however, had denied multiple recusal motions from plaintiff’s lawyers, and that had become a major point of contention in the case.

One of several curiosities in the case involved Geanne Lazenby’s apparent inability to keep a lawyer for long. She went through a Who’s Who of Birmingham-area divorce lawyers–Rick Fernambucq, Bruce Gordon, Charles Gorham, Mavanee Bear, Kristel N. Reed, and Gregory Yaghmi. Most of them filed a recusal motion and promptly exited the case, usually not waiting around for a ruling.

Here is another curiosity: The Birmingham firm of Smith Spires & Peddy made an appearance, on June 6, 2011–almost three years after the case had begun. SSP lawyers A. Joe Peddy and Tamera Erskine joined the fray on Blake Lazenby’s behalf, even though neither they nor their firm appear to have experience in divorce law.

They filed the subpoenas on non parties, and to our eyes, the documents appear to constitute a “fishing expedition,” at best. At worst, they appear to have been used for nasty, strong-arm purposes. Who were recipients of the subpoenas, and what information was sought? Here is a summary:

Custodian of Medical Records, Alabama Women’s Specialist, Birmingham–All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

Custodian of Medical Records, Craddock Clinic, Sylacauga–All records pertaining to the treatment and/or diagnosis of Geanne E. Lazenby, including services rendered and financial records.

Custodian of Records, Coosa County Sheriff’s Office–All police reports and investigative documents related to any allegations or claims made by Geanne E. Lazenby against Earnest Files, DOB: 10/31/1955.

What do we learn from this? One, Blaze Lazenby’s lawyers were going after his wife’s medical records. My understanding is that discovery rules allow for a broad inquiry, and the Smith Spires & Peddy attorneys might have been entitled to such information. But what was the purpose, especially given that medical information usually is subject to the privacy protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)? Why would Mrs. Lazenby’s medical records be relevant in a divorce matter?

The information sought in the third subpoena is truly baffling. Who in the heck is Earnest Files, of Coosa County, Alabama, and what was the relevance of any police reports Mrs. Lazenby had filed about him?

We checked the Web site for the Coosa County Sheriff’s Office and found this item dated April 1, 2011:

Earnest James Files Jr. of Kellyton, AL was arrested on charges of Harassing Communication and Criminal Trespassing. He was processed and released on bond to await trial.

Did Geanne Lazenby file a report regarding Mr. Files? If so, why did her husband’s lawyers want the information–and how did they intend to use it? Why was it a factor in the Lazenby v. Lazenby divorce case?

The Blake Lazenby murder case presents many more questions than answers at the moment. But our guess is that any serious investigation should examine discovery issues in the victim’s divorce case, especially those that arose in the final two months of his life.

Below is a Motion for Protective Order and Objections to Non-Party Subpoenas filed by one of Geanne Lazenby’s lawyers. The document reveals possible hot-button issues in the divorce case at the time of Blake Lazenby’s murder:

Blake Lazenby Case–Motion on Subpoenas

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