Former Alabama governor Don Siegelman’s conviction has been upheld on appeal, along with that of Richard Scrushy, the now-notorious CEO of HealthSouth whom Siegelman appointed to a regulatory board. Don’s partisans continue to claim he was framed, and Don himself is not yet through trying to find a judge who will see things his way.
Siegelman’s appeal concedes that he appointed Scrushy as a favor in exchange for a donation. But he argues that the exchange was not “explicit” bribery — it was just politics as usual. Let this conviction stand, and office holders will be forever subject to selective, politically motivated prosecution.
So the only reason Siegelman was prosecuted, to hear him tell it, is that he was an up-and-coming Democrat whom the Republicans wanted to discredit. This has been gospel among Siegelman supporters since the beginning, and to diehard Democrats it is self-evidently true. For others, including some Republicans, the pervasive sleaziness and cruelty of the Gonzales Justice Department made it appear highly likely that Siegelman’s prosecution was based on trumped-up evidence. But it wasn’t Gonzales who initiated the case. Nor, despite the theories floated by Don’s backers, is there any real reason to believe that Karl Rove took an interest. It’s true that Rove cut his fang-like teeth on Alabama Supreme Court races back in the ’90s, but he’s moved on to bigger things.
With the finest legal team that money can buy, the only evidence of malfeasance that Siegelman has been able to unearth are:
- the inconsistent testimony of a self-styled Republican operative, Jill Simpson, whose alleged presence at conspiracy meetings rests solely on her own say-so.
- an email sent from one juror to another, expressing an opinion about the case while it was still being argued. This was a technical violation of jury sequestration, but hardly a proof of conspiracy against the governor.
We are asked to place implicit faith in Jill Simpson’s veracity, without asking why no one else has come forward to corroborate her story, if her story is true. We are to believe that one single Republican in Alabama has obeyed her conscience, while every other Republican activist, from here to Washington, is loyally concealing the anti-Don conspiracy.
Yeah, that must be it.
At the same time, we are to place the most cynical (or paranoid) interpretation on the juror email. It can only be a smoking gun, proving — well, proving that a juror formed and expressed an opinion contrary to the one the Siegelman team thought the juror should have formed. And the only way that could have happened is through malign influence from Don’s enemies. Any juror who decides against Don Siegelman must not be impartial, you see.
It’s been amazing to see how the Siegelman team has been able to occupy the courts for years with this meager material. No less amazing is the way that a few opinion writers, like Scott Horton at Harper’s, manage to wring drama out of this rather boring corruption trial. (In his latest piece Horton uses vague description and innuendo to superlative effect.) Siegelman himself, after a brief fit of humility, is back to talking about his case as if Watergate were “child’s play” in comparison.
But it isn’t about him, he’s quick to add. He’s doing it for us.
The appeals court is unimpressed. “Well, what do you expect,” cry the Siegelman partisans. “All the Eleventh Circuit judges are Republicans!” So now Siegelman is pinning his hopes on the precedent set by a 1991 decision handed down by another bunch of Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court. McCormick v. United States overturned the extortion conviction of a state legislator, finding that a quid pro quo had to be demonstrated first. In other words, there’s nothing inherently illegal about handing over fistfuls of cash to a legislator who does you favors. It’s just politics.
I’ve disclosed my own bias in an earlier post. For balance, here are a couple of local Siegelman partisans:
- Legal Schnauzer: Siegelman’s second appeal focuses on ‘explicit’ nature of bribery law
- Locust Fork News: Siegelman asks 11th Circuit to rehear case
I’m curious to know what my two or three interested readers think.