Local lawyer Courtney French last week filed a complaint in the Jefferson County Circuit Court against an anonymous YouTube blogger who operates under the username “Truth is . . . Birmingham” for libel, defamation and intentional interference with business relations. Over the last month, “Truth is . . . Birmingham” has posted a series of videos alleging that French received his contract with the Birmingham Water Works Board due to his connections with City Council President Johnathan Austin and that he is colluding with Austin to defraud the board by funneling state money into Austin’s political action committee.
“Truth is . . . Birmingham” began posting a series of YouTube videos in early July accusing Austin of manipulating the Birmingham Water Works Board into making French’s firm their primary legal counsel. The first of the videos, Johnathan Austin and Friends, asserts that French is paid $120,000 a month by the Water Works Board and that “in return, French bankrolls Austin’s PAC and dark money 501c4 CURE [the Center for Urban and Rural Empowerment], which pays for strikes against his enemies and buys loyalty.”
The video does not offer any evidence that French is receiving that $120,000 per month or misusing any payments from the board; nor does it elaborate on the assertion that the nonprofit CURE is being used to influence the city government.
French began working with the Water Works Board last fall, when the board voted to cancel their contract with their previous law firm of nearly 30 years, Waldrep, Kendrick, and Stewart, and hire French’s firm Fuston, Petway and French.
When asked for comment on the recent allegations and French’s complaint, Anita Hendrix, the executive assistant to the general manager of the Birmingham Water Works, replied, “Fuston, Petway and French serves as legal counsel for Birmingham Water Works Board. We have no further comment.”
French did not respond to requests for comment. Austin said he had not seen the videos and did not know of the case and so could not comment.
In a later video, “Truth is . . . Birmingham” expands their allegations: “When Courtney French got his $120,000 per month contract from the Water Works Board thanks to Austin . . . he owed CURE a cut of the money. Rumor has it that this model has been used over and over with companies that need or want to do business with the City, the Water Works Board, and even the Transit Authority.”
The blogger does not explain the source of these rumors or provide any examples of companies being blackmailed into providing money for CURE.
In his complaint, French describes the allegations as “false, reckless and outrageous accusations,” and states that the posting of these videos has interfered with his ongoing business relationship with the Water Works Board of Birmingham to the point where French “has lost wages and lost earning capacity, and will continue to do so in the future.”
The complaint argues that the accusations “have caused the Plaintiff special harm in that they threaten the Plaintiff’s license to practice law by inferring that he has violated the Rules of Professional Responsibility.”
Perhaps the most serious charge is made in one of the most recent videos, titled Water Works Lawsuit, which claims that Austin and French are behind the Board’s recent decision to file a lawsuit against two recently passed state laws that would add additional members to the board because “adding more board members could mean votes against their contacts and draining the money supply to their 501c4 CURE.”
The video asserts that the lawsuit gives Austin and French “the opportunity to hire more of their friends, spend more money on legal bills, and further their destruction of Water Works finances, leading to higher bills for the people they claim to be looking out for.”
The complaint was filed on August 3 and posted to the Alabama State Court system’s electronic filing system Alacourt. By August 5, the complaint had been sealed and is no longer accessible. Since the complaint was filed, “Truth is . . . Birmingham” has continued to post videos, releasing another short video last Friday on CURE and its alleged misuse by Council President Austin. The latest video ends the same way as all the others posted by the anonymous blogger: with the promise of more details to come and an entreaty for Birmingham to “Stay Woke.”