Yesterday and today I’ve departed from commenting on the media in order to raise awareness of a contemporary political injustice. The story of Don Siegelman is astounding given the facts of his case and also for the inattention it has received at virtually every level of the American legal system, never mind the media.
The back-story to the ex-Governor of Alabama’s case is lengthy and composed of two primary parts: his loss in the 2002 Alabama gubernatorial race and his more recent conviction and imprisonment on bribery charges. Yesterday I dealt with his loss in the 2002 election; today, the allegation of bribery.
Once Siegelman left office under very questionable circumstances, i.e. voting fraud that gave his Republican opponent victory, the Justice Department began to bring charges against the ex-Governor. The first set of charges were brought in 2004, but were dropped the first day of trial after the judge castigated the prosecution for lack of evidence.
The second set came in 2006. Siegelman was accused of accepting a bribe from Richard Scrushy, the CEO of a healthcare service provider named Health South. One of Siegelman’s former aides said he witnessed Scrushy hand over a check for $500,000 in return for which Seigelman would put Scrushy on the state hospital regulatory board. There are several important facts to consider when evaluating these circumstances.
1) Siegelman did not pocket, nor was he ever accused of pocketing, any money at all. He traded a favor for a campaign donation which, right or wrong, is very common.
2) Scrushy had been appointed to this board by the two governors prior to Siegelman.
3) The prosecution’s star witness, Siegelman’s former aid, was a criminal. He is currently in prison for extorting money from businessmen and testified against his ex-boss in part to reduce his own sentence.
4) A copy of the check in question exists, but was never allowed to be admitted into evidence. In fact, the date on the check is several days after the meeting between Siegelman and Scrushy. In other words, the aid lied to the court.
5) The aid admits that he had difficulty remembering a coherent story concerning the meeting with Scrushy and he admits to being coached by the prosecution to testify against Siegelman.
Despite all this, Siegalman was convicted. Instead of being allowed the usual 45 days to report to jail, he was taken immediately to a maximum security prison in manacles where he was put in solitary confinement.
Since then, over 50 State Attorneys General have petitioned the current Federal Attorney General, Eric Holder, to review Siegelman’s case for reasons of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of the Department of Justice. Mr. Holder has already dropped charges in a different case where DoJ misconduct was present, but to date has not reviewed Siegelman’s case. Because of the apparent clarity of misconduct in Siegelman’s prosecution, the ex-Governor has been released from prison while he appeals his case, but unless Mr. Holder intervenes, Siegelman is likely to face the same unjust institutions that sent him to prison the first time around.
60 Minutes has done a fine report on Siegelman, though it is silent on the Governor’s 2002 election fraud incident.