Siegelman Sentence Delayed As DOJ Hides Conflict Data

Don SiegelmanThe Alabama judge presiding over the notorious Bush prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman postponed the defendant’s re-sentencing last week while prosecutors continue to stonewall defense requests for documents showing whether federal prosecutors violated the defendant's right to an honest, unbiased prosecutor. On Sept. 22, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery postponed his re-sentencing of Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy on corruption charges. Decisions by the Supreme Court and other appellate bodies reduced charges, requiring re-sentencing.

Siegelman, at right, a Democrat, was the state's governor from 1999 to 2003. He claims that authorities for five years have illegally blocked his document requests regardinLeura Canaryg Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, left, who recused herself from his case according to conventional wisdom. William Canary, her husband, was Siegelman’s longtime political enemy and the 2002 campaign manager for Bob Riley, Siegelman’s Republican opponent in that year's election for governor. Siegelman narrowly lost after election software recorded a 6,000 drop in his totals in Baldwin County after polls closed.

“No one [in authority] has ever grasped the magnitude of the recusal issue and why it is the most important issue in this entire case,” former Siegelman aide Chip Hill wrote me this week. “Absent proof that the case was conducted without conflict of interest, every action taken in that conflicted environment should be invalidated. That would include the original indictments, the trial, conviction, etc.”

Hill surely must have meant no one in power has recognized the significance. Alabama blogger Roger Shuler, alone, has written hundreds of columns about the case. One was a thorough treatment of the recusal issue last April in,The Siegelman Case: Ten Years of Injustice -- and Counting. That column included the full text of Siegeman's February 2006 request under the Freedom of Information Act for relevant DOJ documents so he could prepare for trial later, with hopes he could be acquitted that year before Alabama's 2006 gubernatorial re-election. Similarly, Harper's columnist Scott Horton questioned in 2007 why the court docket failed to show standard paperwork reflecting recusal.

Mark FullerFuller last week temporarily transferred certain motions in the case to U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler, who is based in Tuscaloosa. Coogler, like Fuller, is a Republican appointee of President George W. Bush. Fuller, shown at left in a Phil Fleming portrait shortly after the jury verdict in the Siegelman case, is heavily compromised by allegations he hated Siegelman and rigged the 2006 trial against Siegelman and Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth. Scrushy is serving a seven-year term after he contributed heavily to a pro-education non-profit in 1999 at Siegelman's request before Siegelman reappointed him to a state board.

In a 2007 sentencing, Fuller ordered Siegelman and Scrushy to be hauled from his court in chains to begin seven-year terms that began immediately, with solitary confinement for Siegelman, and without the customary bonds court give white-collar defendants during appeals. Siegelman has been free on bond since 2008 following national outrage over CBS 60 Minutes revelations that year describing part of the unfairness of his prosecution.

The former governor seeks seeks federal records on whether Canary actually recused herself from prosecuting the case, as she claimed. The Bush Justice Department at first responded to Siegelman’s 2006 Freedom of Information request by saying no relevant records exist. But hundreds of pages of relevant documents are reportedly now at issue.

Update: Readers submitted powerful supportive comments to this column on OpEd News. Among them were Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, a scholar, author and former Reagan adminsitrtaion assistnt reasury secretary who investigted the Siegelman case.

As our Justice Integrity Project has found typical in such disgraceful Bush-era prosecutions, the Obama DOJ is continuing to enforce a code of silence amongst authorities, sometimes by ruthless measures and sometimes by lavish rewards. One way, for example, was blackmailing and threatening Nick Bailey, the chief witness against the defendants. Another in 2009 was to fire Tamarah Grimes, a Republican and the DOJ's top paralegal on the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution. Grimes claimed vast waste and unfairness in the Siegelman prosecution, including Canary’s continued direction of Middle District prosecutors despite her public claim of recusa because of her husband's work. Canary’s husband is William Canary, head of the Business Bob RileyCouncil of Alabama and campaign manager in 2002 for Siegelman’s successful Republican opponent, Bob Riley, right. 

Dana Jill Simpson, a longtime Republican activist and political operative, stepped forward in 2007 to swear that Canary told Republican insiders after Riley’s 2002 election that he was in communication with “Karl” about Siegelman’s political future -- and that Canary’s “girls” would ensure that Siegelman wouldn’t be a future threat. Simpson, who said she assumed from the context that Canary was describing his friend Karl Rove, also swore in testimony to House Judiciary Committee staff that Robert Riley, the governor’s son, claimed in 2005 that Fuller “hated” Siegelman and would be assigned a prosecution targeting the former governor.

The Obama administration and Alabama’s timid Democratic Party leadership have kept a lid on the scandal in other ways as it deferred to the state’s two powerful U.S. Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.
George BeckObama retained the Republican partisan Leura Canary in her political post for a decade until last spring. Even then, Obama replaced her with George Beck, who should have been fatally compromised from such a post. That's because he allowed rogue DOJ prosecutors to threaten his client Bailey in up to 70 pre-trial interrogations almost entirely unreported to the defense. Previously, we and others reported that Bailey was a reputed homosexual who feared prosecutors, according to documents filed in court in 2009 by a Bailey friend. Playing on that, prosecutors reportedly threatened him with up to 10 years in prison under horrible conditions unless he gave them what they wanted in terms of testimony against Siegelman and Scrushy.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved Beck without even asking him to appear to answer questions. Since then, Beck and his DOJ superiors provide no sign of investigating what we have reported as $27 million in donations by gambling interests (including from Jack Abramoff clients) to the two-term Gov. Riley and his cronies. Neither is there any publication indication that they care about improprieties in the $35 billion Air Force tanker refueling deal, which we among others have reported as playing an important role for Republicans in Alabama in their effort to seek Siegelman’s imprisonment by any means possible.

Last April, Shuler wrote:

Siegelman looks remarkably fit for a 65-year-old man who has been through 10 years of legal hell. He remains convinced that Rove is behind his prosecution, and he hopes to someday prove it. But for now, he and his lawyers are playing a waiting game. Siegelman's No. 1 concern at the moment seems to be the U.S. Justice Department's apparent determination, even under a Democratic president, to obscure the truth about his prosecution.

In sum, the bipartisan disgrace continues unabated in what appears to be a court-enabled kleptocracy in Alabama and Washington. At this point, are you surprised?

 

 

 

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Below are columns referenced above or otherwise providing context. See the full article by clicking the link.

Prosecution and Judicial Recusal Issues
U.S. Attorney Leura Canary

Legal Schnauzer, The Siegelman Case: Ten Years of Injustice--and Counting, Roger Shuler, April 13, 2011. In April 2001, former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman hired a lawyer after articles in statewide newspapers indicated a federal grand jury was focusing on his administration.

Harper's / No Comment, The Remarkable ‘Recusal’ of Leura Canary, Scott Horton, Aug. 2007. One of the oddest claims has consistently been the simple suggestion that Leura Canary ‘recused’ herself from the case. When I first heard this, I put down on my check list: collect Canary recusal papers from court docket. My researcher went off looking for them, and reported back: there are no Canary recusal papers. How could that be? I sent him back again, for the same result. I started asking counsel and clerks at the court. It seems no one else had ever seen the recusal papers. So did Leura Canary actually recuse herself? I’m skeptical. It’s an extremely important matter, as Mrs. Canary went to great lengths to create a public appearance that she had withdrawn. But there’s a lot to suggest that in fact she never relinquished complete control over the case. Let’s take a deeper look, shall we?

Legal Schnauzer, Justice Department Continues to Play Hide and Seek with Siegelman Documents, Sept. 26, 2011. Thee decision to prosecute Siegelman and Scrushy for "crimes" that do not exist under the law rests with the Bush administration. But the decision to stonewall on DOJ records now rests with the Obama administration.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller

Huffington Post, Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows, Andrew Kreig, May 15, 2009. The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge ─ not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income. These are the opinions of Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who is speaking out publicly for the first time since his effort in 2003 to obtain the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery on Doss Aviation-related allegations.

Robert HinkleJustice Integrity Project, Florida Judge Continues Whitewash of Siegelman Frame-up, Andrew Kreig, July 11, 2011. A Florida federal judge has ruled that former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and his co-defendant have been treated so fairly that no one can reasonably suspect the appearance of bias. The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, right, denied a hearing or other discovery on whether Siegelman’s trial judge should be recused. Hinkle thus continued the whitewash of the nation’s most notorious political prosecution of the decade.

Justice Integrity Project, Judges Who Refuse to Recuse Taint Our Justice System, Andrew Kreig, May 16, 2011. Three recent state, federal and Supreme Court controversies show how the public is nearly powerless to obtain due process when conflicted judges refuse to recuse themselves. The latest example is Texas judge Tracy A. Gilbert, right, in a child custody case examined below.

Other Judicial and Prosecution Abuses

Huffington Post, Did DoJ Blackmail Siegelman Witness With Sex Scandal? Andrew Kreig, July 21, 2009. The top government witness in the 2006 federal conviction of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges is providing new evidence that prosecutors failed to fulfill their legal obligation to provide the defense with all records documenting witness-coaching. Former Siegelman aide Nick Bailey swears that prosecutors failed to reveal to the defense details of most of his two dozen prep sessions before he became the Bush Justice Department's key witness that former HealthSouth chief executive Richard Scrushy bribed the former Democratic governor.
 
Huffington Post, Alabama Decisions Illustrate Abuse of Judicial Power, Andrew Kreig, June 10, 2009. The plight of litigants who face a biased judge is illustrated by the track record of a prominent Alabama federal judge, as well by major recent decisions requiring new trials in West Virginia and Georgia courts. The track record of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama shows that he continues to supervise cases compromised by his personal, financial or political interests despite his promise at his 2002 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any conflicts. Exposure of Fuller's record is timely because of the Senate's forthcoming hearings for Obama administration judicial nominees, and because of growing concerns about the recusal standard. These include the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling June 8 that a West Virginia Supreme Court judge should have recused himself from a case involving a major contributor to his judicial election campaign. Also, a federal judge in Georgia admitted last month that he shouldn't have tried and sentenced a high-profile political adversary who now seeks dismissal of the charges.

Huffington Post, Siegelman's First Trial Judge Blasts U.S. Prosecutors, Seeks Probe of 'Unfounded' Charges, Andrew Kreig, May 21, 2009. One of the most experienced federal judges in recent Alabama history is denouncing the U.S. Justice Department prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham calls for a probe of misconduct by federal prosecutors ─ including their alleged "judge-shopping," jury-pool "poisoning" and "unfounded" criminal charges in an effort to imprison Siegelman.

Bingo Gambling and Air Force Contract Dollars

BoeingJustice Integrity Project, Feds Lose Big In Alabama Bribery Acquittals, Hung Jury, Andrew Kreig, Aug. 11, 2011. Federal prosecutors suffered one of their most remarkable setbacks nationally in decades Aug. 11 when an Alabama federal jury failed to convict any of nine defendants on any count in a massive gambling corruption case against state senators and those accused of trying to bribe them.

Connecticut Watchdog, Inside Story on DoD’s Boeing Air Force Tanker Deal: Opinion Analysis, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 25, 2011. The Department of Defense Feb. 24 announced its choice of Boeing for a $35 billion contract to build the Air Force’s next generation of mid-air refueling tankers. Boeing’s selection, subject to any challenge by the losing bidder EADS, could end a decade-long, scandal-ridden process that became one of the controversial and important in modern U.S. procurement history.

 

 

Justice

 

Below are significant articles the past week on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by clicking the link.


Prison Life

Forbes, What High-Profile Inmates Learned In Prison, Robert Wynne, Sept. 21, 2011.

Voting Rights
National Law Journal, Judge turns aside challenge to Voting Rights Act, David Ingram, Sept. 21, 2011.  A federal judge in Washington ruled on Sept. 21 that Congress acted within its authority in 2006 when it extended the Voting Rights Act, including a section that requires some states and localities to get permission before changing how they run their elections.  The opinion by U.S. District Judge John Bates was a victory for civil rights advocates and for members of Congress who supported the act's renewal. Bates described the nearly 20 hearings and 15,000-page record that lawmakers compiled leading up to the renewal -- a record that Bates wrote demonstrated the continued existence of racial discrimination.  Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance of election changes by the Justice Department or a three-judge panel, has been under intense scrutiny. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped the question of the section's constitutionality, but warned that it raised "serious constitutional questions."  The latest challenge to Section 5 came from Shelby County, Ala. Represented by Washington's Wiley Rein, the county filed suit last year calling the preclearance requirement burdensome and asking to have the section declared an unconstitutional. The Constitution's Fifteenth Amendment empowers Congress to protect the right to vote by "appropriate legislation."

Challenges to Traditional Media
Los Angeles Times / Media Access Project, Water District Taps Google For Good Coverage, Sam Allen, Sept. 13, 2011. Central Basin pays for positive stories by a firm that Google considers a news site. Officials call it innovation, but open government advocates fear it blurs the line between news and publicity.  Readers who type "Central Basin Municipal Water District" into Google News get a series of upbeat articles.  One story hails the benefits of Central Basin's new recycled water system. Another piece praises the agency's legal battle over groundwater rights. Others catalog the successes of its conservation programs.  What the average reader doesn't know is that Central Basin is paying nearly $200,000 in taxpayer money for the glowing coverage. In a highly unusual move, the water district hired a consultant to produce promotional stories "written in the image of real news," according to agreements reviewed by The Times. The articles appear on a professional-looking news website called News Hawks Review. The site is indexed on Google News, carries its own advertisements and boasts an "experienced and highly knowledgeable" staff of editors and reporters. But records show it is directly affiliated with a corporate communications firm under contract with Central Basin.

Legal Schnauzer, Has Mainstream Journalism Officially Died in Alabama? Roger Shuler, Sept. 21, 2011.  Bob Lowry, perhaps the last real mainstream journalist in Alabama, is out of a job. That should concern every citizen who thinks that reporting plays a critical role in our democracy. Lowry, who started his journalism career in 1977, most recently was Montgomery bureau chief for The Huntsville Times. But the Times has closed its bureau, and Lowry came to an agreement to leave the paper. That means the fourth largest city in Alabama, and one of the nation's premier centers for high-tech and space-related industry, will have no one covering the state capital. Even more alarming are signs that Lowry's ouster might have been part of a political hit.

 

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