Mark Twain once wrote, “It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”
Well, that may actually be a trick since there’s apparently no evidence Twain ever wrote those words. And his name wasn’t actually Twain either, which makes me doubly angry he tried to fool us with a quote he never wrote while using a fake name. You following me so far?
Regardless of all the foolishness surrounding the quote and who may or may not have written it, the sentiment isn’t foolish at all. It may, in fact, be the most succinct explanation for the bizarrely high re-election rate of public officials who preside over national, state and local governments that massively fail to perform effectively. None of us can stand someone else’s crooked or inept pol, but it takes a massive jolt of reality sent down from the heavens in the form of a teenage girl or federal indictment to even momentarily break the adoring gaze we cast upon our own fools.
It’s why people are constantly re-elected who demonstrate, at best, a total lack of ability to handle their job and, at worst, a genius for hiding their lack of ability behind a tornado of obfuscations and hubris. And right now Alabama may have no finer example of Twain’s misattributed quote than State Auditor Jim “Zig” Zeigler.
Since his election as auditor in 2014, Zig has been Montgomery’s carnival barker and pied piper of populism. News reporters have become like metal shavings drawn to the magnetism of this quotable gnome willing to hold forth on just about any subject not actually having to do with auditing state agencies. That’s been his shtick — set forth a whirlwind of comments and lawsuits swirling around Alabama, and then whisper “governor” into the maelstrom and watch as it is carried to the six corners of our oddly shaped state.
Perhaps the only thing that saved Alabama from a Jim Zeigler gubernatorial campaign this year is that Zig has lost his law license and is lying about why it happened.
For months now the story has been dribbling out a little at a time about Zeigler surrendering his law license at the beginning of the year. The first stories written dutifully reported his rather strange explanation that he’d surrendered the license because he decided not to run for attorney general and didn’t want to pay fees and insurance any more.
It didn’t take long for that line to fall flat, though. Some well-placed people at the state and local level familiar with Zig’s license surrender assured Lagniappe the state auditor was not being truthful. He had been forced to surrender his license, we were told, because of mishandling a case in his private practice, prompting a complaint to the Mobile Bar Association. The Alabama State Bar couldn’t say much, but did reveal that Zeigler is ineligible to reapply for his license for five years — the same as an attorney who has been disbarred. His license surrender even shows up on their discipline page
But Zeigler has stopped taking our calls. He just repeats the same nonsensical story to other media, overlooking the fact that lawyers who no longer want to practice can simply go inactive.
Last week the other shoe dropped when WPMI-TV published a letter from the Mobile Bar Association ordering Zeigler to pay back $10,000 to a client last year as part of a fee dispute resolution.
Zeigler’s law practice specialized in working with elderly or infirm clients, and so it was that he ended up having to pay back most of a $12,000 retainer he’d received to handle a client’s legal needs. The bar found Zig not only didn’t complete work he charged the client for doing, he also paid himself from the retainer for doing unnecessary work.
But even when confronted with this letter, Zig stuck with his story and claimed the repayment of $10,000 had nothing to do with the surrender of his law license. And this is the part where Zeigler supporters can either admit they were fooled, or start twisting logic like a pretzel to maintain their view of him as the crusading auditor. Because Zeigler knows it’s unlikely anyone is ever going to see the bar’s disciplinary records, as they were sealed as part of the license surrender agreement.
I’ve only met Zeigler once and that was a couple of months ago at “Pork and Politics” at Battleship Park. He shook my hand as I walked into the hangar and with a big grin handed me a tiny business card about the size of a front tooth and said, “Jim Zeigler, state agitator.” Goofy, gimmicky and not the least bit surprising.
Zeigler introduced himself to voters in 1974 by winning a spot on the Public Service Commission at the age of 24. Since then he’s spent 40 years losing one statewide race after another until finally winning the lightly regarded job of state auditor four years ago. Since then he’s filed numerous lawsuits arguably unrelated to his position and grandstanded on just about every turn in the Luv Guv saga. All the while he teased about a run for governor — even writing a book about his fictitious run for the office as a political outsider.
He adopted that vision of himself early in life, becoming one of the first non-Machine candidates to win SGA president at The University of Alabama. At the time it was an amazing achievement. It also may have foreshadowed a little of what we’re seeing now.
According to a 1993 Crimson White article, Zeigler ran into trouble as SGA president when he was accused of making “outrageously long long-distance phone calls” and using SGA money to party in Las Vegas. His fellow students unsuccessfully tried to impeach him in 1971, and Zig claims his dorm room was burned the night the impeachment bill was tossed out.
Zeigler has already secured the Republican nomination for a second term as auditor, and faces Democrat Miranda Karrine Joseph in the Nov. 6 general election. So there’s a strong chance we’ll see him hang onto his position.
But it is an insult to Alabama’s voters, and the state bar as well, that Zeigler continues telling what is clearly an untrue story about his law license. The hypocrisy of Zeigler promoting himself as this state’s moral compass, when he lost his law license for allegedly shafting his client, is palpable. That he continues lying about it and dodging questions is outrageous.
Zeigler could put this all to rest if he wants by allowing the Alabama Bar Association to open the records on his license resignation. But don’t hold your breath.
It’s a shame the records aren’t public, because it simply allows Zeigler to continue trying to fool the voters. And you know what Mark Twain once said about fools wanting to remain fooled. Zig sure does.