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Updates on America’s Most Prominent Political Prisoner

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Raw Story Looks at Siegelman
Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane at The Raw Story launch their series looking into the prosecution and imprisonment of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman. The opening piece takes a look at the Siegelman case from the perspective of Republican electoral politics, and it opens with this salvo:

For most Americans, the very concept of political prisoners is remote and exotic, a practice that is associated with third-world dictatorships but is foreign to the American tradition. The idea that a prominent politician — a former state governor — could be tried on charges that many observers consider to be trumped-up, convicted in a trial that involved numerous questionable procedures, and then hauled off to prison in shackles immediately upon sentencing would be almost unbelievable.

But there is such a politician: Don Siegelman, Democratic governor of Alabama from 1999 to 2003. Starting just a few weeks after he took office, Siegelman was targeted by an investigation launched by his political opponents and escalated from the state to the federal level by Bush Administration appointees in 2001.

In addition to a detailed narrative, Raw Story also presents a well-researched chronology of the Siegelman case.

More installments in this series coming, but the opener is very impressive.

Alabamians Believe Siegelman a Victim of Political Prosecution
The view taken by Raw Story, that Don Siegelman is a political prisoner, may have emerged as the view of the people of Alabama. In any event, a new Rasmussen poll shows 56% of Alabamians surveyed believed that politics played a role in the prosecution of Don Siegelman. Earlier polls had shown only about 30% believing that the prosecution and trial were politically motivated.

What happened in the interim that would make a difference? Evidence has steadily accumulated establishing that the claims of Dana Jill Simpson, a Republican lawyer who first broke accusations of Republican manipulation of the case, are correct. Time Magazine’s Adam Zagorin disclosed that a key witness in the case, Lanny Young, made specific accusations against Republicans William Pryor and Jefferson Sessions that were not followed up. Time also documented the extensive conflicts and political motivation that marked the work of U.S. Attorney Leura Canary and members of her staff involved in the matter.

Further, it was disclosed that the two most senior career prosecutors working on the case had concluded that it did not merit being taken to a grand jury. More recently it was disclosed that Leura Canary’s office has convened a grand jury proceeding targeting persons making corruption allegations against several of her husband’s clients, also in violation of Justice Department policies. Mrs. Canary has also refused to release documents requested by the House Judiciary Committee in connection with its examination of the Siegelman’s case.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing in which a former U.S. Attorney testified that local federal prosecutors were told to take another look at the Siegelman case after they were ready to close the case. Former Republican Attorney General Richard Thornburgh stated that he saw political influence in the prosecutions brought by Department of Justice. Congress has heard sworn testimony that the Department of Justice selected personnel based upon their political leanings and heard sworn testimony that executives in the Department of Justice misled Congress about the political activities in the Department.

Franklin to Butts: “You’re Sleaze.”
While the transcript of the Siegelman trial is still not finished, and its absence is holding up Siegelman’s appeal, bits and scraps of it have come out and much of it makes for very interesting reading. One thing that stands out is that Judge Fuller allowed Prosecutor Franklin to get away with conduct that other judges would have sanctioned. In one passage, Franklin calls defense counsel Terry Butts “a sleaze.” Fuller refuses to chastise or rebuke him in any way. Perhaps because Fuller shares the viewpoint? Or thinks this is an appropriate way for lawyers to behave in his court room?

Here’s the passage, from p. 92 of the transcript:

MR. BUTTS: What? What did you say, Mr. Franklin? Say that to the Judge, what you just said. Did you just say, I was a sleaze?

THE COURT: Counsel.

MR. BUTTS: Is that what you just said?

THE COURT: Counsel.

MR. FRANKLIN: Yes, I did. That’s what I said to you. Are you deaf? Are you deaf?

Franklin comes across as bullying, intimidating and rude. Not exactly the model of a federal prosecutor. But then, nothing in this case comes anywhere close to that model. And Judge Fuller comes across as extremely indulgent–of the prosecutors, but not of defense counsel.

But we need to step back and think about this. Allowing a prosecutor in the trial of a political corruption case to call the defendant’s lawyer a “sleaze” is very serious business. It undermines the fairness and integrity of the entire trial process. This is a lot more than a lawyer misbehaving. It’s a prosecutor engaging in guerilla warfare in the court room and subverting proper process, while the judge looks on indifferently.

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