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General News    H2'ed 7/13/11

Florida Judge Continues Whitewash of Siegelman Frame-up

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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 thus continued the whitewash of the nation's most notorious political prosecution of the decade.

Hinkle's 40-page decision denies a hearing and absolves Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Alabama's Montgomery-based Middle District, above. The judge invited freelance photographer Phil Fleming to take the portrait above in 2006, minutes after the Siegelman verdict after long deliberations. The jury reached a split verdict, with acquittal on most corruption counts involving Siegelman's request that business man Richard Scrushy donate to the Alabama Education Foundation.

Hinkle carries the veneer of independence and fairness, in part because Democratic President Bill Clinton nominated him. But Hinkle trivializes Fuller's mind-boggling conflicts and other irregularities -- and a judge's legal duty to avoid even the appearance of unfairness.

Hinkle severely undermines public confidence in the judiciary when he protects his colleague Fuller from scrutiny regarding the fabulous sums Fuller has been making on the side while implementing the Bush administration's long jihad against Siegelman, his state's most prominent Democrat. Fuller has long functioned as a partisan Republican.  

Like Fuller, Hinkle is a wealthy man with many investments that the Justice Integrity Project explored in a much longer column about this on our site. Hinkle fails to see any potential conflict in Fuller's repeated, dubious rulings in favor of his Bush administration patrons while also being enriched by Bush contracts totaling $300 million to the judge's closely held company, Doss Aviation, Inc.

Further, Hinkle was a substantial stockholder in another company, ChoicePoint -- exactly when ChoicePoint used despicable methods in 2008 to thwart a private detective's researches into Fuller's Doss holdings.

ChoicePoint, since acquired by Lexis-Nexis, is notorious for other reasons in Florida's state capital: At the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, ChoicePoint furnished the state with flawed records that enabled the state government wrongly to remove thousands of African-American voters from eligibility to vote in 2000. This helped George W. Bush win the Presidency that year in disputed Florida vote returns with a reported margin of just several hundred votes. The 5-4 Bush v. Gore Supreme Court decision sealed the victory by forbidding Florida from continuing vote recounts.

To be sure, there's no way of knowing how much Hinkle knows about the operations of the companies in which he invests. He has declined to respond to my request for comment for this column, and to provide a photo and his 2010 financial disclosures covering the year 2009. Also, he probably doesn't know of all the wheeler-dealing described in this column and elsewhere by the independent press.

That said, any decent person, much less a federal judge sworn to uphold the Constitution, would have found ample evidence in the record to inquire further. Defense attorneys filed in 2009, for example, an extraordinary series of affidavits from the major prosecution witness, Nick Bailey, and the prominent Republican businessman Luther "Stan" Pate IV, among others, describing irregularities in the prosecution.

Last week, we documented in Justice Irregularities In Alabama Continue Disgrace how the Senate unanimously approved George Beck as the new U.S. attorney for Alabama's Middle district without a hearing subjecting Beck to questions about his role in Siegelman's frame-up.

That column reported also how Alabama court and Justice Department officials seek to prevent defendants in a gambling trial from being able to question Siegelman's Republican successor, former Gov. Bob Riley, about allegations Riley and his cronies received $27 million in secret and apparently illegal payments from gambling interests.

That purportedly includes $13 million from one of the defendants in the ongoing gambling corruption trial in the federal courthouse in Montgomery, portrayed in a photo from Wikipedia files, and another $13 million from out-of-state Indian casino operators seeking to protect their turf by encouraging Riley to limit gambling in Alabama.

Hinkle barely touched on such matters, confining that part of his discussion largely to his fleeting reference to a judge's right to own stock. Click for Hinkle's decision. Most of it vindicates a series of pro-prosecution Fuller rulings and ex parte contacts between jurors, law enforcement and court personnel that were kept unknown to defense attorneys.

I looked in vain through the decision for any sign of balance, compassion or judicial initiative to pierce the mysteries of the case. Instead, I saw narrow-minded, pro-prosecution rubber-stamp arguments. This was much like a long federal appeals court decision in this case by an all-Republican panel of federal appeals court judges who, in 2009, ruthlessly condemned the defendants at nearly every turn.

Last year, Stanley F. Birch, Jr., a 1990 appointee of President George H.W. Bush and acting chief judge for the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, picked Hinkle to resolve ongoing controversies about whether Fuller should recuse himself from the Siegelman case, which for years has been documented on OpEd news and elsewhere as a Karl Rove-inspired frame-up.

Let's step back, look at the big picture and the players and examine reflect on why we should all care. The last part is easy. The late Alabama federal judge Frank M. Johnson, for whom the Montgomery courthouse above is named, is venerated for standing up for civil rights. In his day, that most visibly involved racial issues in Alabama, "The Cradle of the Confederacy."

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Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, radio host, and longtime non-profit executive based in Washington, DC. His most recent book is "Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters," the (more...)

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