Tuesday, 13 January 2015 00:00

Siegelman Hearing Scheduled for Jan. 13th as Feds Impose 'Solitary'

Written by Andrew Kreig | Justice Integrity Project

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. His 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.

The story is familiar to those following the case via thousands of articles and broadcasts through the years: Alabama’s leading Democrat was convicted of corruption charges in 2006 for 1999 actions -- appointing a donor to a state board -- that are not normally considered a crime.

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:

He 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.

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!

Link to original article from Justice Integrity Project

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