Yet another Siegelman update

The “Free Don Siegelman” lobby has been active, but Obama’s Justice Department seems unimpressed. In April the dismissal of the Ted Stevens case raised hopes that Siegelman’s prosecution might also be found improper. And in May, a federal judge in Alabama sent a strongly worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on behalf of Siegelman.

Siegelman fans are enthusiastic, but I remain unmoved. (In the past I disclosed my own bias here and criticized Siegelman’s case here.)

The Stevens case: In 2008, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska was convicted of hiding gifts worth a quarter of a million dollars. But after Obama took office, Holder found that federal prosecutors had acted improperly by failing to share notes from an interview with a key witness, whose courtroom testimony conflicted with what he had initially told interviewers. Stevens is probably guilty as charged, but because of the misconduct by prosecutors, Holder requested that all charges against Stevens be dismissed on appeal.

The Stevens case had been bad for Siegelman, because it showed that even the Bush Justice Department was not entirely partisan in pursuing corruption cases. (Siegelman has always claimed he was prosecuted solely because he was an up-and-coming Democrat.) If prosecutors had held off, there is no doubt that Stevens would have been re-elected in November. Instead, he lost by a very narrow margin to his Democratic challenger.

Still, the outcome of the Stevens case prompted seventy-five of Siegelman’s colleagues (he was state attorney general before winning election as governor) to petition Holder to review Siegelman’s case. Many Democrats have expressed impatience with Holder’s decision to await the results of a review by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The assumption seems to be that only Democrats can give a Democrat a fair hearing.

Judge Clemon’s letter: The next stage in Siegelman’s trial proceedings will be a sentencing hearing before Judge Mark Fuller. Earlier this month, prosecutors dismayed Siegelman supporters by recommending that the government seek to extend Siegelman’s sentence from seven to twenty years.

Judge U.W. Clemon sent a letter to Holder demanding an investigation of Siegelman’s prosecutors, whom he accused of raising “unfounded” charges, “poisoning” the jury pool, and “judge-shopping.” In 2004 federal prosecutors did try to avoid having Siegelman’s corruption case tried before Clemon, whom they regarded as a Siegelman ally. Clemon barred much of the prosecution’s initial evidence against Siegelman, and after long months of maneuvering, the prosecution brought new charges against Siegelman and hospital executive Richard Scrushy, who contributed money to Siegelman’s lottery campaign in exchange for a seat on the state board that regulates hospitals. This case was heard by Judge Mark Fuller instead of Clemon, and a jury found both Scrushy and Siegelman guilty.

Where the prosecutors found Clemon too friendly to the governor, Siegelman supporters view Fuller as unfairly biased against him. They were particularly incensed that the judge had Siegelman led out of the courtroom in shackles, then imprisoned him in Louisiana rather than close to home. Of course, these indignities are imposed on innumerable convicts every day in the name of the American people. Is a man of Siegelman’s standing supposed to be exempt from such things? His supporters seem to think so.

The latest salvo against Judge Fuller accuses him of holding a grudge against Siegelman for reasons that frankly aren’t clear to me after digging into Andrew Kreig’s Huffington Post article. It seems that because Fuller is the principal stockholder in Doss Aviation, a military contractor that receives nearly all its income from the federal government, he is therefore liable to be biased toward the government’s case. This is pretty thin soup. While I don’t think much of people who pull down unearned incomes derived from the extravagant mark-ups associated with defense contracting, I also don’t see how it would play a greater role than, say, a portfolio of federal bonds — to say nothing of drawing a federal salary — in biasing a federal judge in favor of the government.

Kreig’s article portrays a Missouri attorney named Paul B. Weeks as a hero for raising this issue. He’s getting help from Jill Simpson, the self-styled Republican volunteer, whom state Republicans claim not to know, and who has been so diligent in trying to vindicate Siegelman.

Siegelman’s contribution to this dust-up is a press release recycling the tired myth that U.S. attorney Alice Martin’s husband is “Karl Rove’s best friend in Alabama.” Rove has become the all-purpose liberal bogeyman, the very mention of whose name is supposed to make us angry and intolerant.

Holder and Obama are under a lot of pressure to let Siegelman off. The handling of Ted Stevens’ case, when it would have been easy and politically expedient to continue to prosecute him, speaks well of Holder’s respect for the law. But it doesn’t bode well for Siegelman.

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