Siegelman Hearing Scheduled Jan. 13 As Feds Impose 'Solitary'


A federal appeals court in Atlanta hears on Jan. 13 the latest appeal of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, one of the nation’s leading political prisoners.

Don SiegelmanHis imprisonment for 1999 actions not considered a crime by other political figures has been compounded by more than a month of harsh confinement over the holidays preventing family visits and communications with his lawyers in advance of his hearing, aside from one phone call.

“Don has spent more than a month in solitary confinement, 24 hours a day for more than 36 days,” wrote his friend Anita Darden, who has maintained the Don Siegelman website for years. “What a shock and disappointment this must be to a man so hopeful for release a month earlier. How did this happen?” she continued in a column posted Jan. 12 on a supporters' website.

Update from New York Times: Lawyers for Don Siegelman, Ex-Governor of Alabama, Again Seek His Release From Prison.

In a case brought by the Bush administration and vigorously endorsed by the Obama Justice Department despite evidence of massive irregularities, Siegelman’s appeal focuses on two arguments:

Leura CanaryHe asserts that Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, in office from 2001 to 2011 and shown in a file photo, failed to recuse herself from decision-making despite a conflict of interest because her husband, William Canary, was campaign manager for a Siegelman rival. Leura Canary claimed she recused but the government has denied since 2006 the defense requests for evidence on the issue.
As a second ground for appeal, Siegelman says that his trial judge, then-Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, improperly imposed a sentence for charges for which Siegelman had won jury acquittal.

The Anniston Star in Alabama editorialized last week regarding Siegelman’s 78-month sentence for actions not normally considered criminal. The newspaper said the tough sentence contrasts sharply with the 24-month sentence a Virginia federal judge imposed this month on Republican former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who with his wife accepted some $170,000 in gifts from a lobbyist.

U.S. District Judge Clay Land

Siegelman was convicted of seeking $500,000 from a wealthy businessman, Richard Scrushy, for a non-profit Siegelman supported for its efforts to enact in Alabama a state lottery to fund education.  Republicans and casino owners opposed the lottery. Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist for Native American casino owners, told the Justice Integrity Project he raised $20 million from his clients to oppose Siegelman and the lottery proposal.

Siegelman, 68, is due for release from his 78-month sentence in mid-2017. He has been stripped of his law license and state pension after spending much of his career in government and undergoing continuous investigation and prosecution since his first year as governor in 1999.

Film maker Steve Wimberly unveiled last month a powerful 12-minute video, Killing Atticus Finch. It illustrated how legal experts from across the country have rallied to Siegelman's defense.

But U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land Dec. 19 denied Siegelman's request to be released on bail pending a decision on this week’s appellate hearing before a three-judge court. That decision could take a year to decide the issues. 

As we reported previously in Shackled Siegelman Typifies White House ‘Human Rights’ Charade, Land, shown at right, based his decision in part on prior rulings by the courts denying Siegelman the right to obtain more evidence that the prosecutor had in fact recused. However, longtime Alabama legal blogger Roger Shuler raised new questions about those precedents in a Jan. 12 column, Here is more evidence that U.S. Magistrate Charles Coody lied about review of papers in Siegelman case.

Darden, the Siegelman supporter, wrote:

Will the testimony of a witness who swore that Leura Canary did, in fact, micro-manage the Siegelman case after Canary claimed that she had recused herself be ignored? Is it acceptable for the court accused of this wrong-doing to decide that the witness's sworn testimony against it was 'not reliable' and stop further investigation? Isn't the court legally obligated to allow the defense to investigate the witness’s claims?

To put it another way, I paraphrase Judge Land's ruling in Montgomery when he describes Don's frustrating Catch-22: The Government says that the Siegelman Case does not have enough evidence to prove their point, but the Government then forbids them to gather the evidence to prove their point!

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Related News Coverage

Updates: New York Times, Lawyers for Don Siegelman, Ex-Governor of Alabama, Again Seek His Release From Prison, Alan Blinder, Jan. 13, 2015. For the second time in less than a month, lawyers for former Gov. Don E. Siegelman of Alabama on Tuesday took his corruption case into a federal courtroom in an attempt to speed his eventual release from prison. During arguments before the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a lawyer for Mr. Siegelman, Clifford M. Sloan, said allegations of misconduct by a prosecutor merited further exploration. He also said the judge who presided over the former governor’s 2006 trial had erred in applying federal sentencing guidelines. The questions raised in the appeal “go to the very heart and core of the fairness of the prosecution and imprisonment of Mr. Siegelman,” Mr. Sloan, who until recently was the Obama administration’s special envoy for the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, told the three-judge panel here. But a Justice Department lawyer, John-Alex Romano, insisted that Judge Mark E. Fuller had imposed an appropriate prison sentence — 78 months — and that the United States attorney at the beginning of the inquiry, Leura Canary, had sufficiently honored her pledge to recuse herself from the case.

GoFundMe, Don Siegelman Documentary, Steve Wimberly, Jan. 13, 2015. Film maker Steve Wimbery wrote: "Today the 11th circuit court of Appeals was receptive to Don's arguments. We should expect a decision in 60 to 90 days. Let us hope that justice will be served." Killing Atticus Finch, Steve Wimberly, Nov. 13, 2014. Steve Wimberly is the writer, director, and producer of the powerful video clip shown above. Editor's Note: This trailer for a projected documentary on the Siegelman case succeeds a KickStarter campaign that closed without reaching its $125,000 goal by the standard deadline of one month. 

Wikipedia, Atticus Finch is a fictional character of Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus is a lawyer and resident of the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, and the father of Jeremy "Jem" Finch and Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. Lee based the character on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an Alabama lawyer who, like Atticus Finch, represented black defendants in a highly publicized criminal trial. Book Magazine's list The 100 Best Characters in Fiction Since 1900 lists Finch as the 7th best fictional character of 20th century literature. In 2003, Atticus Finch, as portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, was voted by the American Film Institute to be the greatest hero in American film.

Anniston Star (AL), Editorial: A gross injustice in sentencing, Editorial board, Jan. 7, 2015. Robert F. McDonnell, the man who served as Virginia’s governor from 2010 until 2014, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison Tuesday. To say McDonnell was convicted of corruption is to tell only a fraction of the story surrounding his dealings while in office. Don Siegelman, former governor of Alabama, is serving a 78-month sentence in federal prison. Siegelman was convicted of trading a $500,000 contribution to the governor’s pro-statewide lottery campaign for a seat on a state board, a position the contributor, former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, had previously held. That is essentially the reason many U.S. ambassadors/presidential contributors hold their posts. Same for how every governor fills out state boards across the United States. Yet, somehow Siegelman is the one serving more than seven years in prison. His term is scheduled to end in August 2017. McDonnell’s two-year sentence should conclude in February 2017, six months ahead of Siegelman’s release date. Smells like a gross injustice against Don Siegelman.

Legal Schnauzer, Oral arguments in Siegelman case might be overshadowed by reports about magistrate's deceit, Roger Shuler, Jan. 13, 2015. Oral arguments in the Don Siegelman case are set to be heard today before the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. But the proceedings might be overshadowed by revelations over the past week that a U.S. magistrate failed to review key documents in the case and then lied about it in his ruling. We broke the story last week that U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody, from the Middle District of Alabama, claimed he had "thoroughly reviewed" documents related to the supposed recusal of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary. But as we reported yesterday, lawyers for both Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy state in court filings that Coody never even ordered the Canary-related documents from the U.S. Department of Justice, so he could not possibly have reviewed them.

AP via Tuscaloosa News, Arguments set Tuesday in former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman's appeal, Kim Chandler, Jan. 11, 2015. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s bid for a new trial in what could be the imprisoned Democrat’s final bid for freedom. Defense lawyers argued that information provided by a former paralegal suggested U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remained involved — steering office resources to the case, getting updates and sending an email suggesting trial lawyers seek a gag order — despite her claim of recusal. Siegelman’s defense lawyers have raised the issue of Canary’s involvement since it first became public that the governor was under investigation. His then-defense lawyer famously held a 2002 press conference with canaries chirping in a bird cage. Prosecutors, however, have contended for nearly as long that Canary played no role in the case.

Legal Schnauzer, Here is more evidence that U.S. Magistrate Charles Coody lied about review of papers in Siegelman case, Roger Shuler, Jan. 12, 2015. Evidence continues to mount that a U.S. magistrate in the Middle District of Alabama lied when he stated that he had "thoroughly reviewed" documents related to prosecutor Leura Canary's supposed recusal in the Don Siegelman case. That might cause a reasonable person to ask: What in the world is in the Canary documents that would cause a federal magistrate to lie openly in court documents -- with at least five more judges helping to perpetuate the lie in followup rulings? Are these judges trying to protect powerful individuals who were pulling Canary's strings in the background, ensuring that the Siegelman case was a political prosecution--as the former Alabama governor and his supporters have claimed for years.

Legal Schnauzer, Siegelman lawyers claim that U.S. Magistrate Charles Coody lied about reviewing Leura Canary documents, Roger Shuler, Jan. 7, 2015. The federal judge who claims he reviewed documents in the Don Siegelman case related to the recusal of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary never actually saw any such documents, according to a court filing. U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody, from the Middle District of Alabama, states in an order dated June 27, 2012, that he reviewed in camera (in private, in his chambers) all documents that Siegelman sought and found they contained "no exculpatory matter" that would "further" the former governor's claims. Coody proceeded to deny Siegelman's request for discovery, just as he had earlier denied a similar motion from codefendant Richard Scrushy, the former CEO of HealthSouth. By our unofficial count, Coody became the first of at least six federal judges to deny discovery on the Canary-recusal issue--the others being trial judge Mark Fuller; a three-judge panel of the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals; and, most recently, U.S. District Judge Clay Land, who was appointed to hear the case in the wake of Fuller's wife-beating scandal. All six judges to consider the matter have denied discovery by essentially following Coody's lead -- and his claim that he had privately reviewed all relevant material that Siegelman requested. But Siegelman's lawyers state, in a brief dated August 26, 2013, that Coody never reviewed any documents related to Canary's recusal. In fact, the Siegelman team states that Coody only reviewed documents related to primary government witness Nick Bailey and never even ordered documents about Canary. In essence, Siegelman's lawyers are calling Coody a liar -- and they are saying that Coody's lies have tainted the defendants' cases for roughly 2 1/2 years now.

Don Siegelman, Finding Don; Seeking Justice, Anita Darden, Jan. 12, 2015. Despite everything that has happened, we continue to believe - sometimes unrealistically - that America has the best justice system in the world. If it gets derailed somehow, as we believe that it has been in this case, well then, citizens like us can raise our voices and we will be heard! We will exhaust all venues, fully expecting that justice will be restored in the case of Don Siegelman. And we have a duty to refuse to let this ruling stand because it provides a playbook and a precedent in political persecution that cannot stand.

Justice Integrity Project, Shackled Siegelman Typifies White House ‘Human Rights’ Charade, Andrew Kreig, Dec. 29, 2014. Federal authorities continued this month their remarkably harsh, unjust treatment of the nation’s most famous political prisoner. The U.S. legal jihad against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman continued even as the Obama administration separately cited “human rights” as the rationale for new U.S. sanctions and other interventions overseas. Authorities shackled Siegelman during his Dec. 15 court appearance in the state capital of Montgomery, denied his request for release on bond during appeal, and reportedly are keeping him in solitary confinement over the holidays so far in a county jail while he awaits an appellate hearing next month.  The Obama administration’s hypocrisy is thus displayed as it continues Bush-Clinton policies of citing “human rights” abuses elsewhere around the world as an excuse to foment revolutions, covert paramilitary actions, and propaganda campaigns on multiple continents, including secret operations to influence United States voters, Obama refuses to pardon Siegelman for acts less egregious than the president's, John Farmer, Dec. 24, 2014. John J. Farmer, Rutgers Law School, shown in a photo at left, is a professor of law at Rutgers University, and a former attorney general for John Farmerthe state of New Jersey.  President Obama has acted like every one of his predecessors in rewarding his biggest political contributors. But if this time-honored tradition of appointing ambassadors and other officials based largely on political support is so obviously permissible, the question that should trouble the president's conscience is why, if he is willing to make such appointments, he is also content to leave people like [former Alabama Gov.] Don Siegelman in prison. Don SiegelmanA bipartisan and nonpartisan group of over 100 former state attorneys general -- myself among them -- participated as friends of the court in an unsuccessful effort to persuade the federal appeals court and U.S. Supreme Court to reverse Siegelman's conviction. More recently, as Dean of the Rutgers School of Law, I worked with law students from the Constitutional Litigation Clinic to look at every federal official corruption prosecution over the prior decade. The students' conclusion, as stated nearly two years ago in a Jan. 7, 2013, letter to Obama and the pardon attorney seeking a commutation of Siegelman's sentence, was stark:  "the Siegelman conviction is readily distinguishable from every other contemporaneous corruption prosecution .... 'No charges have been brought against a politician where the quid pro quo is as far attenuated as in the present case.'"

Editor's Note: Siegelman is shown in a file photo at right. One the nation's best-known political prisoners was kept in prison garb and shackled during his appellate hearing this month, in which his attorney, former Obama White House Counsel Gregory Craig, argued unsuccessfully that Siegelman should be granted appeal bond while courts weigh his request for a new trial . He is serving a 78-month prison sentence largely for a 1999 appointment to a state board a donor to a non-profit. The one-term governor from 1999 to 2003, his state's most prominent Democrat, has been continuously investigated and prosecuted since 1999, resulting in convictions in 2006 and his 78-month prison sentence.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

FireDoglake, Attorney General Eric Holder to Decide Whether to Charge David Petraeus with Violating Espionage Act, Kevin Gosztola, Jan. 10, 2015. Justice Department and FBI prosecutors have recommended felony charges against former CIA director David Petraeus for leaking classified information to his mistress for a biography she was writing about him. It is now up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether Petraeus should be charged and prosecuted for committing a crime, such as violating the Espionage Act. The news of charges being recommended against Petraeus came from leaks from anonymous “officials,” who are frustrated Holder has not made a decision yet: "The delay has frustrated some Justice Department and F.B.I. officials and investigators who have questioned whether Mr. Petraeus has received special treatment at a time Mr. Holder has led a crackdown on government officials who reveal secrets to journalists." Petraeus has rejected a plea deal. He may have made a calculation that the last thing the Justice Department wants to do is put someone who the Times describes as “the pre-eminent military officer of his generation” on trial.

CNN, 2 senators say Petraeus investigation 'grievously mishandled,' Pamela Brown and Ralph Ellis, Jan. 10, 2015. U.S. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Saturday that the leaking of information about the investigation of former CIA Director David Petraeus was "outrageous." Justice Department prosecutors are recommending charges be filed against Petraeus for disclosure of classified information, a federal law enforcement official told CNN on Friday. The statement from McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said: "It is outrageous that the highly confidential and law enforcement-sensitive recommendation of prosecutors to bring charges against General Petraeus was leaked to the New York Times. It is a shameful continuation of a pattern in which leaks by unnamed sources have marred this investigation in contravention to fundamental fairness."

Washington Post, Federal prosecutors recommend charges for ex-CIA chief Petraeus, Sari Horwitz and Adam Goldman, Jan. 9, 2015. David Petraeus could face criminal proceedings for providing classified documents to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, shown with her book, All In.

David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, NBC_TVNew York Times, Prosecutors Said To Recommend Charges Against Former Gen. David Petraeus, Michael S. Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo, Jan. 9, 2015. The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors have recommended bringing felony charges against retired Gen. David H. Petraeus for providing classified information to his former mistress while he was director of the C.I.A., officials said, leaving Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to decide whether to seek an indictment that could send the pre-eminent military officer of his generation to prison. Petraeus and Broadwell are shown together in a photo from an NBC-TV screenshot.