Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman challenged his imprisonment on corruption charges last week on two grounds of legal error by his trial judge.
Siegelman argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery erred by failing to allow evidence on whether a biased prosecutor had actually recused as claimed.
Also, Siegelman's appeal to the federal appeals court in Atlanta claims that Fuller wrongly increased Siegelman's prison time by citing allegations that failed to win conviction in the 2006 jury trial. Siegelman is serving a 78-month term in one of the nation's most controversial federal prosecutions of the decade.
The rarely photographed Fuller is shown below in a photo by Phil Fleming, whom the judge invited into chambers to provide a portrait minutes after the jury verdict in 2006.
The defendant is shown at right in a 2008 CBS 60 Minutes photo during a segment showing many irregularities in his prosecution.
Part of the 2008 broadcast included Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson, who said she learned in 2002 that fellow Republicans were planning to work with then-White House political adviser Karl Rove to remove Siegelman from politics with a criminal prosecution. She testified in 2007 that she learned in 2005, before Siegelman was indicted, that a case would be devised and placed before Fuller because he "hated" Siegelman and would "hang" him.
The filing Aug. 26, which did not mention Simpson or any conflict by Fuller, helps illustrate why the prosecution remains notorious in civil rights circles even though appellate courts have endorsed for the most part the trial judge's pro-prosecution rulings. The prosecution alleges corrupt dealings by Siegelman in 1999 and 2000 during the first two years of his one term as governor. Rove and other Republicans have denied wrongdoing.
My investigation of the case extends back six years and led to my new book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters. WWL AM/FM has invited me to discuss the book and its findings Sept. 3 on The Garland Robinette Show in a segment beginning at 11:10 AM Central time.
I shall describe how the failure of the courts, the Justice Department and Congress to address an obvious legal frame-up in the Siegelman case, including by Rove and extended into the Obama administration, led me to look at parallel situations elsewhere around the nation.
The irregularities include a massive conflict of interest by the trial judge, who secretly controlled during the trial Doss Aviation, a defense contractor that was receiving $300 million in Bush contracts to train Air Force pilots and refuel Air Force planes. Fuller was the company's largest stockholder with an interest reaching 43.75 percent at one point, Simpson demonstrated with documents that were unknown to the defendants.
The probe led me to a deeper understanding of how those I describe as puppet masters groom judges, political candidates, prosecutors, and others for high office, and expect favorable action down the line when needed, irrespective of traditional law and other supposed citizen safeguards that most voters are too busy to notice.
The book and my radio interview launching the hardcover edition this week show that the bipartisan disregard for normal legal procedures has led directly to this summer's domestic surveillance scandal and the president's plan to bomb Syria after what he hopes will be congressional approval next week. I'll reveal the hidden secret of the Benghazi attacks that neither party wants to discuss -- but is vital to public understanding of issue of congressional authorization for a United States attack on Syria that President Obama seeks.
The Siegelman case, as many others have reported also, illustrates shocking contempt on the part of authorities for well-established Constitutional and other legal procedures. In the background, as often reported here and by others, was the creation of one-party rule in Alabama by a long-running smear of the most popular Democrat. Arguably even more important was the opportunity for lucrative federal contracts by his rivals without the normal checks-and-balances of politics and the courts. My argument is that the Obama administration became complicit in the injustice for complex reasons, including an attempt to cater to Alabama's powerful senators and to obtain freedom to undertake its own machinations elsewhere in the country.
Siegelman's 65-page filing, available here, noted that Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary claimed that she recused from decision-making in the case. She verbally cited a conflict of interest involving her husband, William Canary, campaign manager to Siegelman's two-time gubernatorial rival, Bob Riley, right. Siegelman, however, cited in his brief a claim by the former prosecutor's employee, Justice Department paralegal Tamarah Grimes, stating that her boss was still making suggestions about the case to subordinates after a supposed recusal.
The Siegelman argument is that the judge wrongly denied an attempt by Siegelman to obtain additional evidence on that issue and resolve it with a hearing.The Justice Department reportedly has never provided Siegelman or his co-defendant with paperwork regarding Canary's recusal despite their formal request pending since 2006,the year of their trial.
In early 2009, I heard from a Capitol Hill source that the Justice Department had removed the paperwork from its files so that it could not be subject to request. If true such behavior would be obstruction of justice -- if a prosecutor could be located to prosecute prosecutors. Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson heard the same story from the same source. Simpson had made the case nationally known by testifying before Congressional staff in 2007 that William Canary and Karl Rove sought to frame Siegelman to prevent his re-election.
Siegelman is serving a 78-month prison sentence largely for his 1999 reappointment of Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy to a state board.
Siegelman reappointed the Republican Scrushy to the board following Scrushy's service under three previous Republican governors, to whom Scrushy had made hefty political donations. Also, Siegelman successfully persuaded Scrushy to contribute to the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation, which Siegelman had helped start by guaranteeing a loan to jump-start its advocacy for a state lottery to improve Alabama public schools.
At trial, prosecutors claimed that this routine reappointment was part of a monumental racketeering and bribery scheme. But they produced only implied and largely concocted evidence that Scrushy made the charitable donation to obtain reappointment to the unpaid board.
Scrushy did not testify at his trial because of the mistaken belief that testimony was not necessary -- and his fear he would be impugned for matters irrelevant to the charges. He has told me and others that he did not even want the reappointment and never discussed a donation in exchange for an appointment that Siegelman sought so as to include one of his state's richest businessmen in his circle. Siegelman also was convicted of backdating a check to hide the gift of a motorcycle from a lobbyist who provided such gifts to many other officials. The jury threw out most charges, including all charges against former Siegelman Chief of Staff Paul Hamrick and Transportation Commissioner Mack Roberts.
Among other fallout from the case: The Bush and Obama administrations concocted reasons to fire Tamarah Grimes, right, formerly the most senior full-time paralegal on the Siegelman case, after her in-house criticisms of Leura Canary.
Also, the Justice Department obtained a 10-year prison sentence for former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White on corruption charges. White and Scrushy, both Republicans, have both asserted for years that they were imprisoned because they refused prosecution offers to give false testimony against Siegelman in return for leniency.
The new filing by Siegelman seeking relief from the trial judge's errors does not mention the judge's conflict of interest, which I documented in a 2009 column published on the Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows.
The material is thoroughly documented elsewhere, including in a sworn complaint in 2003 seeking Fuller's impeachment.
That filing to Alabama's federal courthouse in Montgomery, where Fuller presided as chief judge until a year ago, was never included in the federal government's electronic database of filings. Thus it was unknown to Siegelman defense attorneys during his trial but was presumably well known to prosecutors and congress because they received multiple copies.
I can well understand why Siegelman and his attorneys did not want to mention judicial corruption and conflict of interest last week in their last-ditch filing to the same appellate court that has rubber-stamped many previous injustices in this case.
But the media's function is to raise such questions and explore their larger implications.
In this instance, the questionable behavior leads directly to the Obama administration and Congress. The judge's sideline of defense contracting similarly leads to the government's involvement in Mideast wars in multiple ways beyond the scope of this column, but explained in today's radio show and the book.
Related News Coverage
Legal Schnauzer, Improper Actions Of Prosecutor And District Judge Are Focus Of New Appeal In Don Siegelman Case, Roger Shuler, Aug. 26, 2013. There is something fundamentally wrong with our judiciary when this nation can readily justify sending men and women into war zones claiming for reasons to provide others their freedoms and rights, yet here, especially within our own state that many have been, are consciously being denied those same freedoms and rights. Former Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, accused of major irregularities in the Siegelman prosecution, is shown at right.
Progressive Democrats of America, Former Alabama Governor Is a Political Prisoner; President Obama, Pardon Him NOW! Sept. 1, 2013. Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, now in federal prison, is coming up on his one-year anniversary of unjust incarceration. Don is not a criminal. He is an American political prisoner—targeted, prosecuted, and jailed unjustly. We need your help. Please join us in asking President Obama to pardon Don and set him free now! One hundred and thirteen former and current Attorneys General (Republicans and Democrats) signed an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court stating that Don's "crime" was no crime at all. See: Wall Street Journal, Ex-Attorneys General Back Siegelman, Steve Eder, March 1, 2012. More than 100 former attorneys general are backing one of their own — Don Siegelman, Alabama former governor and attorney general, who was convicted in 2006 on corruption charges.
Justice Integrity Project, Justice Irregularities In Alabama Continue Disgrace, Andrew Kreig, July 4, 2011. The U.S. Senate approved by voice vote June 30 a new U.S. attorney for Alabama, thereby extending a series of disgraces blighting the federal justice system in that state and nationally. The Senate voted to approve George Beck, 69, to run the Middle District office in Alabama’s capital city of Montgomery. The Senate failed to require that Beck, right, appear at a hearing to answer questions about a host of pending issues.
Al.com, Federal Bureau of Prisons report finds Gary White wrongfully punished, Charles J. Dean, Aug. 31, 2013. Imprisoned former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White recently finished serving six months of punishment, including time in solitary confinement and suspension of visitation rights by his family, for something the Federal Bureau of Prisons now says he did not do. White recently was informed by the BOP that he had in fact not violated the terms of a medical furlough he received in late 2012 to visit a Memphis doctor for the purposes of assessing the status of problems with his prostate. The BOP in January charged that White while on furlough had called his wife, Judy. BOP said the call violated the terms of his furlough. A review of the furlough document by Al.com showed no prohibition regarding phone calls to have been included in the document. The Whites are shown in a family photo before his imprisonment.
Catching Our Attention on other Media, Justice & Public Relations Issues
Huffington Post, The Rubashkin Case: A Mockery of Justice, Conrad Black, Aug. 28, 2013. The Sholom Rubashkin case has become particularly notorious. Sholom Rubashkin underwent rabbinical training and was a Jewish educator very active in many charities and universally regarded among his acquaintances as a man of great generosity and unblemished ethics. He and his wife have been married nearly 30 years and have raised ten children. His father, Aaron Rubashkin, bought a derelict plant in Postville, Iowa and turned it into a kosher slaughterhouse called Agriprocessors Inc. and his son, Sholom, as well as several siblings, joined him in the management as the business grew to employ over 1,000 people.
White House Blog. Below, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter walk past the statue of President Lincoln to participate in the ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy.)
Washington Post, Security flaws spoil March on Washington anniversary, Letters to the Editor, Sept. 1, 2013.
The people who managed crowd flow and security at the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool for the Aug. 28 commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington should think about another line of work. First, there was a huge bottleneck to admit people through a tiny number of checkpoints.
-- Robert Tiller, Silver Spring
Thousands of non-ticketed attendees had only one security entrance to funnel through. Many gave up, and some even keeled over after waiting for long periods in the heat and humidity. There was no crowd control, no lines formed, and no first-aid response to our calls for help for those who needed it.
-- Babe Healy King, Washington
The strangely empty steps of the memorial — where the speakers stood — were blocked from the view of almost all of the general public by a high, wide press platform. Where the view wasn’t blocked by the platform, a large-screen television had been placed to complete the blockage. We non-ticket-holding folks couldn’t even see the dignitaries seated in front of the memorial. For all we knew, they weren’t even there. The final insult was the organizers’ decision to block off every sidewalk lining the reflecting pool.
-- Mary Belcher, Washington