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Siegelman Convictions Upheld

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The Court of Appeals in Atlanta today upheld most of the convictions delivered against former Governor Don Siegelman, rejecting only two of the counts. In particular, the Court sustained charges that Siegelman behaved corruptly when, after a foundation received a contribution from insurance executive Richard Scrushy, he appointed Scrushy to a regulatory board. The Court found that the jury in the case was within its rights when it found that Siegelman’s appointment was a quid pro quo in exchange for the contribution to the foundation.

The Court also concluded that there was no clear evidence that Judge Mark Everett Fuller, in sentencing Siegelman, retaliated against Siegelman for arguing that the prosecution was politically motivated. They overturned two of Siegelman’s convictions and are therefore sending the matter back to Judge Fuller for resentencing.

There are two points to consider. First, nearly all the disclosures that undermined confidence in the fairness of the Siegelman trial occurred after the trial record was closed–and none of these disclosures were examined by the Court of Appeals. Even though the appeals court looked into jury misconduct, it did not have before it the much more powerful evidence of misconduct that a whistleblowing member of the prosecution team subsequently disclosed to the Justice Department—because the Bush Justice Department, in violation of its plain ethical duties, chose to keep all of that secret. So although an appeal has been taken and resolved, not one of the truly significant issues with the Siegelman case was ever briefed or argued. That remains for the future.

Second, the opinion in this case was rendered “per curiam.” That’s often the approach taken by judges when they don’t want to own up to their own writing. In my opinion none of the judges would want to own up to being the author of this opinion, with its technically well-justified but nevertheless obviously unjust conclusions. This was a panel consisting entirely of Republican judges, and two of the three had an active record of political engagement in G.O.P. causes. They were a distinctly hostile audience for Governor Siegelman, and many passages of the opinion, to my eyes, reflect this.

The Siegelman case has already left much of the nation convinced that federal prosecutors bring corruption cases as a matter of political gamesmanship–not out of concern for law enforcement. I doubt this decision will do much to change that perception.

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