True to recent form, the U.S. Supreme Court denied relief June 4 to former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges. This sets the stage for Siegelman's reimprisonment in the most notorious federal political prosecution and frame-up of the decade.
The court denied without comment the certiorari petition of Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth, Inc. In 2007, U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller sentenced them to seven-year prison terms on multiple charges from Siegelman's solicitation of donations from Scrushy in 1999 for the non-profit Alabama Education Foundation. Siegelman supported the foundation's initiatives to increase school funding with a state lottery over the opposition of a Republican-orchestrated coalition.
On receipt of the court's decision, Siegelman gave a brief comment to his supporters, who have helped him through the years with legal bills of millions of dollars. As published on a list-serve run by Alabama supporter Pam Miles, Siegelman wrote, "Cert Denied.....:)...I'm Blessed by having your love and support..."
The court, as usual, gave no details on its vote to deny the petition. But Democratic Justice Elena Kagan, left, presumably recused herself because she had advocated Siegelman's imprison ment when she was the Obama Administration's Solicitor General in 2009. The new administration stood shoulder-to-shoulder with its Bush predecessors in continuing the frame-up and cover-up. This was part of a "look forward, not backward" mantra that Obama articulated most famously on torture cases, but which applied also to Rove-era political prosecutions. Kagan's recusal made possible a 5 to 3 Republican majority for the case (although the precise totals aren't otherwise known) on a Supreme Court increasingly divided on partisan political lines as rarely before in modern history.
Our Justice Integrity Project has been collecting hard evidence from legal scholars that the court's result-oriented decision-making is becoming an unprecedented disgrace of historic proportions, and is something every thinking voter needs to appreciate. Still to come are the court's decision on the health care law But already the clear outlines are visible in which Democrats and Republicans tend to vote as blocs on tight cases, with important legal scholars discerning political motives more than consistent legal principles in close decisions. Such scholars rarely share such views with the lay public, however, because expert court-watchers do not want to antagonize players in the close-knit, high-prestige world of legal scholarship and advocacy.
Evidence of Supreme Court scandal, which we've carefully accumulated and shall provide in-depth later this summer, rarely finds such a tragic and dramatic result as the federal-state persecution of Siegelman, Alabama's most important Democrat of his era. The June 5 ruling appears to have been Siegelman's last chance to avoid revocation of his appeal bond and resentencing by his nemesis, Judge Fuller, chief middle district judge from 2004 to 2011. Fuller allegedly "hated" Siegelman even before the Bush administration's second secret indictment of Siegelman, and tried to frame him while also benefiting from some $300 million in Bush contracts for a military contracting company the judge secretly controlled as its largest shareholder.
Last week, the Montgomery Independent reported that Fuller cashed out his interests at Doss Aviation with an $18 million payment as he undergoes allegations of adultery and drug-use made by his wife of three decades, Lisa Fuller, in a divorce action filed in April. The divorce case files has now been sealed, part of the pattern of secrecy that has blighted this case at all judicial levels since its inception. We have reported that the secrecy can be traced to a culture of silence whereby attorneys and judges protect each other, especially given the vast defense contracts -- including the Boeing-Airbus rivalry over $35 billion involved in the next generation of Air Force tankers -- looming as part of the motive for the Siegelman prosecution.
Siegelman, whose Karl Rove-inspired prosecution helped gut Alabama's once-competitive Democratic Party, served nearly a year of his term before release on bond when whistleblowers and legal experts helped show in 2007 and 2008 that he had been targeted for political reasons. As trial judge, Fuller paved the way for conviction with innumerable pro-prosecution rulings that ignored clear-cut legal irregularities plus allegations of monumental scandal.The prominent, blunt-speaknig Alabama businessman Luther "Stan" Pate has said his fellow Republicans clearly famed Siegelman. But Fuller, Rove and the vast bulk of other politicians and judges have denied wrongdoing or irregularities.
The Obama administration and Fuller's fellow federal judges have thus closed ranks with innumerable tactical successes to keep the lid on the scandals. This is despite the sworn testimony of whistleblowers and the unprecedented filing to the Supreme Court of 113 former state attorneys general from more than 40 states arguing to the court that Scrushy's donations to the non-profit did not constitute a crime even though Siegelman in 1999 reappointed Scrushy to a state board after the donations.
The June 5 Supreme Court ruling provides many sad lessons. Most obvious is a lack of transparency and logic in the court's deliberations, leading to justified suspicions that it is result-oriented jurisprudence with legal rhetoric just for show. Those regularly involved with the court as legal pundits or professors dare not voice such sacrilege publicly for the most part, but I can report that the overwhelming evidence is becoming difficult even for court loyalists to suppress. Second, we see illustrated in the Siegelman-Scrushy case a visible breakdown of the news media as a meaningful watchdog, aside from a temporary blessing in 2007 and 2008 by the mainstream media and an ongoing, dedicated cadre of old-school but low-income bloggers and citizen activists who have tried to hide the obvious irregularities of the case, to scant avail.
We see also that the bipartisan political system represents scant check on any misconduct. Listed below is a new book about Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, who reputedly feels sorry for himself because he is attacked by Republicans. There's no hint in the news articles about the forthcoming book that he feels the slightest shame at abandoning political prosecution torture victims from the Bush administration, or even the whistleblowers who courageously risked everything to fight injustice in the Justice Department. One of them is Tamarah Grimes, the DOJ's top-house paralegal in the Siegelman case. Holder fired her in 2009 after she sent him a 10-page single spaced description of irregularities in the office of holder Bush U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and others who helped lead the Siegelman prosecution. Ironically, Grimes was scheduled for a federal hearing June 5 on her claim of unjust firing, which the Obama administration is resisting out of loyalty to its predecessors.
None of this makes sense according to conventional political and other civic affairs analysis. But it all makes sense, in a diabolic way, with the kind of slightly deeper reporting independent media have been providing for years. Thus, 2010 Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Bill Barnes told me on the record that his view is that the Obama administration had largely written off the Deep South on such justice issues as the Siegleman case in order not antagonize powerful Republicans, sch as incumbent Sen. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. Similarly, Congressman Artur Davis, Alabama's most important elected Democrat following Siegelman's persecution, worked out a deal with Republicans to sell out Siegelman, according to multiple confidential reports. But Davis was widely suspected of the double-cross, and lost the 2010 Alabama Democratic primary for governor. His reputation in ruins, last month he announced that he was becoming a Republican.
Beyond breakdowns in political, court and news media watchdog functions, the Siegelman case illustrates the powerlessness of defendants no matter how much experience they have, how many witnesses or how much they can raise in defense costs. Siegleman was a Rhodes Scholar and former state attorney general. His co-defendant, Scrushy, was one of Alabama's richest men before the onslaught. Scrushy faced separate fraud allegations him both civilly and criminally arising from fraud in inflating the assets of HealthSouth, thus hurting investors. But his only convictions were for his donations to the non-profit, not any substantive action involving his company. Scrushy, denied bond, was released form prison to a halfway house this spring for the remainder of his term.
Scrushy and Siegelman received temporary hope last June when the Supreme Court provided an ambiguous ruling in parallel cases under the "honest services" law. This helped certain well-connected defendants specifically, but appellate courts whittled down meaningful application to Siegelman and Scrushy, thus setting up today's final appeal by defendants almost unaccountably doomed from the start.
In 2009, the Obama Justice Department requested that Fuller sentence Siegelman to 20 more years in prison when his appeals were concluded. Presumably, but not certainly, some sense of shame at DOJ as well as cost-benefit recognition of the enormous costs of prosecution and imprisonment will encourage Obama officials to reduce that request.
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Andrew Kreig is a Washington, DC-based commentator, consultant, radio host and author, drawing on his careers in law, business and journalism. The consultancy Eagle View Capital Strategies (www.eagleviewdc.com) provides links to the core documents (more...