Monday, 12 January 2015 00:00

Finding Don; Seeking Justice

Written by Anita Darden

I, Friends of Siegelman and interested followers of his story are looking forward to the hearing in Atlanta this Tuesday, January 13, because, 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.

Where's Don Siegelman? Over 36 days in Transit and in Solitary
Don has spent more than a month in solitary confinement, 24 hours a day for more than 36 days. What a shock and disappointment this must be to a man so hopeful for release a month earlier. How did this happen?

From Prison to Montgomery
Early in December, the former governor of Alabama left Oakdale on the 4th, in high spirits, to be present at a Dec. 15th hearing in Montgomery. Traveling by BOP bus, CON Air One, and driven by Marshals in a car by way of Oklahoma City and Atlanta, he arrived in Montgomery eight days later on the 12th.

His supporters and high expectations crowded the courtroom on the day of the hearing in Montgomery. We had a new judge, a new lawyer, and new evidence. Don would leave the courthouse a free man; we were sure of it!

We first glimpsed the former Governor of Alabama when he was brought into the courtroom unkempt, in a grubby red-orange jumpsuit, shackled wrist and ankle, chained around the waist. His face lit up when he saw the crowded gallery and family members among them.

His attorneys requested that his handcuffs be removed so he could take notes, but the prosecutors opposed this request, citing standard operating procedure, and he remained in his shackles. He was not released pending the appeal in Atlanta.

He left the courtroom, we thought, headed back to Oakdale Prison in Louisiana.

No Christmas Visitation for the Siegelman Family
However, after the hearing, Don did not head back to Oakdale Federal Prison. He stayed in Montgomery.

If you heard that Don Siegelman was detained in Montgomery so that he could be near his family, that is not true. Don remained in the Montgomery County Jail for 15 days after the hearing, through Christmas, without family visitation. His daughter, Dana, had even flown in from California, expecting to visit her Dad, without success.

Although Don could call people collect during the Montgomery stay, he had to sit on the floor to talk and pull the receiver through the bars to dial numbers he had memorized.

All but hermetically sealed in the Montgomery County Jail, he was not able to communicate with his lead attorneys in Washington, D.C.

New Judge Helps Don See Attorneys
On December 29th, a Montgomery attorney, concerned by the former Governor's isolation in Montgomery, filed a motion with the government to show cause for this extraordinary treatment. Then curiously, on the morning of the 30th, he was moved to an unknown location.

The new judge, Judge Clay Land, initiated a conference call and instructed the prosecutor to immediately arrange for Don to be able to talk to his attorneys in preparation for the January 13th oral hearing at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

On January 2nd, his attorneys from Washington, D.C. flew into Atlanta and met with Don for two and a half hours at the Atlanta federal penitentiary. No other visitors or calls were permitted.

"After that meeting," his brother told me,"we lost track of him completely. As of January 7th, his whereabouts were unknown."

Magical Mystery Tour in Reverse
Then on January 8th, the BOP website revealed that Don was in Oklahoma City, a staging area or hub for prison transportation.

So, we expect that he is headed back to Oakdale prison. We are told he will likely stay in Oklahoma City until a vehicle has room to take him to Alexandria. Then he will probably wait in Alexandria until a vehicle is available to take him back to Oakdale. In Oakdale, the procedure is that he will stay apart from the main prison, in the "hole," while they process him back into the prison camp.

The net result of this travel schedule and from constantly being in solitary confinement is to keep Don incommunicado, out of touch with family, friends, and legal counsel in these weeks leading up to his Atlanta Appeal.

Will this Case become a Primer for Political Persecution?
As we wait for the hearing and the ruling by the Appeals Court, I wonder whether we will find justice on Tuesday.

Will the obvious conflict of interest of Leura Canary continue to be considered merely bad judgment? Rubber stamp legal precedent says "yes." Common sense and a basic sense of justice do not agree. The legal precedent says that receiving money to bring a prosecution is not a good practice, but it is not that bad, not bad enough to grant a new trial. Really? Can this be true?

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!

Will this hearing restore justice for Don Siegelman and allow his case to be re-tried, or will this chilling case stand and become a primer for political persecution in America?

 

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