No Comment — February 21, 2008, 5:41 pm

Shorts from America’s Legal Hell-Hole

First Two CBS Teasers on Siegelman Now Up
CBS News has just posted the first teaser for its feature, to air on Sunday, concerning the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. It concerns Jill Simpson’s account of her dealings with Karl Rove and his involvement in plans to take down the once popular Alabama Governor:

Rove’s attempt to smear Don Siegelman was part of a Republican campaign to ruin him that finally succeeded in imprisoning him, says the operative, Jill Simpson. Simpson speaks to Scott Pelley in her first television interview, to be broadcast on “60 MINUTES” Sunday, Feb. 24, at 7 p.m. ET/PT, on the CBS Television Network. Simpson spoke to Pelley because, she says, Siegelman’s seven-year sentence for bribery bothers her. She recalls what Rove, then President Bush’s senior political adviser, asked her to do at a 2001 meeting in this exchange from Sunday’s report.

“Karl Rove asked you to take pictures of Siegelman?” asks Pelley. “Yes,” replies Simpson.

“In a compromising, sexual position with one of his aides,” clarifies Pelley. “Yes, if I could,” says Simpson. Simpson says she found no evidence of infidelity despite months of observation. She tells Pelley that Rove, who had been a top Republican strategist in Alabama, had made requests for information from her before in her capacity as an “opposition researcher” for Republicans running for office.

And here is Scott Pelley’s reporter’s notebook in which he introduces the segment:

Why Wouldn’t Alice Martin Charge Dickie Scruggs?
Today the Wall Street Journal corroborated some aspects of my report from December 10 (“Lott’s Lament”) concerning an investigation into whether former Senate Republican leader Trent Lott had improperly intervened to help his brother-in-law Dickie Scruggs in connection with his legal problems.

Here’s what the Journal reports:

Federal agents are investigating whether former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott knowingly played a role in an alleged conspiracy in 2006 to influence a Mississippi judge presiding over a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against famed plaintiff attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs, according to people familiar with the situation. …

Mr. Lott, who is a brother-in-law to Mr. Scruggs, unexpectedly announced his resignation from the Senate two days before Mr. Scruggs was indicted last November. Since then, Mr. Lott has been interviewed by federal agents at least once, according to a person familiar with the case.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Oxford, Miss., which is leading the investigation, is also examining whether several associates of Mr. Scruggs induced a different Mississippi jurist, Hinds County Judge Robert Delaughter, to rule in favor of Mr. Scruggs in a separate lawsuit by promising that Mr. Lott would recommend Judge Delaughter for a seat on the federal bench.

As Folo reminds us, the man about whom they are reporting is Judge Robert DeLaughter.

Whereas the Journal put the focus of the probe on the case before DeLaughter, my sources, though not disagreeing with the Journal, put it in Birmingham, Alabama.

Scruggs was facing trouble on another front. A federal judge in Alabama, William Acker, handed down a very strongly worded ruling in June in which he recommended that the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama [Alice Martin] prosecute Scruggs for the violation of a court order in some insurance litigation. The case was drawing a good deal of attention to Scruggs’s litigation tactics, which have widely been seen as pressing the outer boundaries of acceptable zeal, and clearly was troubling to Scruggs. Had Scruggs been seeking Lott’s intervention and help to bail himself out?

One thing is peculiar. Federal judges in the Northern District of Alabama didn’t want to have anything to do with the matter after Scruggs asked them to recuse themselves. And neither did the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham.

Here’s one scenario, which two senior law enforcement figures in Mississippi told me was “more than simply plausible.” The FBI had secured warrants to monitor Scruggs’s phone calls early in the course of the case, during the summer or early fall. In some of those conversations Dickie Scruggs asked for his brother-in-law’s help in fighting off Judge Acker’s attempts to have him prosecuted. Trent Lott picked up the phone and spoke with a few friends in the Justice Department–or perhaps even directly with a U.S. Attorney or two in Alabama, or a senator from Alabama–and asked them to lay off his misbehaving brother-in-law.

My bet is that the investigators are looking very carefully at whether the decision by the U.S. Attorney in Birmingham not to charge Dickie Scruggs had anything to do with intervention by Senator Lott.

Of course, the other point that the Journal failed to pick up on is that Lott had a history of intervening with prosecutors to protect his extremely wealthy brother-in-law. I documented this in connection with the prosecution brought against Paul Minor. No matter how you cut it, Dickie Scruggs comes out smack in the middle of that case, playing a substantial role. Yet he was not charged with anything, and indeed, prosecutors treated him with tremendous deference. The Biloxi Sun Herald quotes Lott as acknowledging having had discussions with the prosecutors about his brother-in-law’s case. Lott quickly corrected his comments as “a mistake.” But the circumstances surrounding the case leave many wondering just how mistaken the remarks might have been. Moreover, when an FBI agent working on the case started questioning why Scruggs had not been charged, the agent found himself quickly reassigned—to Guantánamo—where his expertise as a forensic accountant surely were of good service.

All of this suggests that in the Birmingham U.S. Attorney’s office, it’s not just the decisions to bring charges that may reveal political motivation, but also the decisions not to bring charges.

Byrne Explains It All
I recently noted that those providing accounts of Alice Martin’s investigation into Democratic legislators (and one Republican) involved in alleged wrong-doing in the administration of the state’s two-year college system seemed to regularly cite former Republican Senator and presumptive Republican gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne as a source for inside information. The pattern continues, as Byrne gave a press interview furnishing details on the raid on the office of the Republican who appears as a late addition to the probe. Note Byrne’s knowledge of the state-of-play in the investigation:

Rep. Todd Greeson’s computer hard drive, taken by state Department of Postsecondary Education officials last week, was confirmed by two-year college system Chancellor Bradley Byrne to be part of a state and federal investigation. Byrne said the hard drive was retrieved at the request of authorities conducting an ongoing investigation into the two-year college system.

Hands Across the Aisle
And the same paper, the DeKalb County Times-Journal, offered an unusual display of bipartisan solidarity—challenging the conduct of U.S. Attorney Alice Martin. Here are the words of Representative Jack Page, a Democrat in the legislature, concerning Martin’s belated decision to add Greeson, a Republican, to her list of targets:

An apparent federal investigation into Rep. Todd Greeson’s work at Northeast Alabama Community College is “a glorious witch hunt,” Rep. Jack Page said Tuesday. Page, D-Gadsden, is also employed by Alabama’s two-year college system at Gadsden State Community College. His district includes south DeKalb County. “These efforts and money could be used so much better on fighting the war on meth or sex offenders,” Page said. “Instead, they choose to make a mockery of the Justice Department.”

Greeson, R-Ider, said Monday that investigators confiscated his computer hard drive and subpoenaed co-workers when they came to his office at Northeast Alabama Community College Thursday. He said Tuesday postsecondary officials actually took his hard drive. “The two-year system seizes the hard drive and the FBI subpoenas the co-workers,” Page said. “I have a word for that. It’s called collusion. Why are they working so closely together?

“If they are after Todd’s hard drive and someone touched it between Todd and the FBI, someone could have tampered with it. They could have put anything they wanted into it.” Page said no one in the two-year college system is safe. “I think anybody employed by the two-year system is under scrutiny,” Page said. “Innocent until proven guilty has long since gone out the window in this case. Officials are being tried and convicted in the media.”

In 2005 Republican lawmakers threatened to censure Greeson, who had said he planned to vote with Democrats on a procedural vote that GOP members had hoped to use to block consideration of a funding bill. Page said Greeson has likely been caught up in bi-partisan politics. “Todd refused to march in good step with Republicans on a procedural vote and was threatened,” Page said. “Todd voted the way he felt best represented his district.

“[Gov. Bob] Riley and his henchmen have brought the worst form of Karl Rove brand of beltway politics into Alabama. That is his legacy. It feels like we are in the Alabama McCarthy era.”

Looks like some members of the legislature are slowly awakening to the true character of their U.S. attorney. Indeed, I was amused to find this phrase in a recent publication out of New Jersey, discussing their U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, who gave a no-bid sweetheart contract to John Ashcroft and is not refusing to testify before Congress about it. The publication called Christie “one of the most ethically suspect U.S. attorneys–outside of Alabama.” There are still some areas in which the Heart of Dixie claims an undisputed first place.

The Politicized Judiciary
Kudos to the Decatur Daily for this editorial on the Siegelman case:

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman has had no luck in getting out of federal prison on an appeal bond. His best hope appears to be a Monopoly game Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, which describes his predicament. Thus, from June until now, he remains in a Louisiana federal prison, out of sight after what appears to have been a political lynching for doing what politicians do every day — appointing a financial contributor to a high position.

Attorneys for Mr. Siegelman filed a new motion Tuesday asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to order the trial judge to release him on bond while his case is on appeal. U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller sentenced him to more than seven years in prison for allegedly taking a bribe from former chief executive officer and founder of HealthSouth, Richard Scrushy. The indictment accused him of appointing Mr. Scrushy to a health regulatory board in exchange for $500,000 in contributions to help pay for his failed education lottery. Mr. Scrushy’s sentence was slightly less than seven years and he also remains in prison.

Judge Fuller, in a highly unusual decision, ordered both men handcuffed and led off to prison after sentencing. Now, Mr. Siegelman can’t get an appeal hearing on the merits of his case and can’t get out of prison while the court takes its time. Democracy loses along with Mr. Siegelman when politics takes over the judiciary. Rolling the Monopoly dice might have given him more justice.

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