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Federal Judge Spotlights Misconduct by Federal Prosecutors in Siegelman Case

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U.W. Clemon, formerly Alabama’s most senior federal judge, has written a scorching letter to Attorney General Eric Holder itemizing gross misconduct by federal prosecutors involved in the Siegelman case and demanding that the Justice Department open a full investigation into the matter. “The 2004 prosecution of Mr. Siegelman in the Northern District of Alabama was the most unfounded criminal case over which I presided in my entire judicial career,” he writes. “In my judgment, his prosecution was completely without legal merit; and it could not have been accomplished without the approval of the Department of Justice.” Clemon goes on to note that prosecutors engaged in judicial forum shopping, attempted to poison the jury pool, and filed and pressed bogus charges.

Holder has declined to release the full text of the letter, but it was quoted at length in an article by attorney-journalist Andrew Krieg at the Huffington Post. Clemon, who retired from the bench at the beginning of the year in order to return to the practice of law, issued the letter more than a year after handing down a decision in United States v. White, which I discussed in “Corruption in a U.S. Attorney’s Office.” Judge Clemon found “disturbing evidence” suggesting that prosecutors had attempted inappropriately to pressure a witness to give false evidence against Siegelman. Notwithstanding these startling conclusions, documented in a published court opinion, it appears that the Justice Department took no steps to investigate the allegations of serious misconduct.

In recent weeks, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed five of seven counts of the Siegelman conviction in an opinion issued by three Republican judges. The case was referred back to a fourth Republican judge, Mark E. Fuller, for re-sentencing. The ruling prompted further cries for a reexamination of the case, as 75 former attorneys general from 40 states, both Democrats and Republicans, wrote Holder noting gross irregularities in the case and improper conduct by prosecutors who secured the conviction.

In the last week, a number of serious allegations have resurfaced concerning Judge Fuller, who came to preside over the criminal charges against Siegelman following a series of unusual maneuvers by federal prosecutors highlighted in Clemon’s letter to Holder. The Siegelman case came into Fuller’s court just as a series of hard-hitting accusations of judicial misconduct were filed with the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section (“PIN”). PIN, whose leaders are now themselves the targets of a special prosecutor’s investigation, led the prosecution of the Siegelman case. In the last week, Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks, whose affidavit making charges against Fuller was first secured and published here, has spoken publicly about the matter for the first time and has provided considerable further detail to his accusations. Weeks stated:

I just wish I had known about Siegelman’s case before his trial so they [defendants and attorneys] could have been able to understand the kind of animus Fuller has to have for Siegelman. I guarantee that Fuller blames Siegelman for my affidavit. If you look at how Fuller treated Siegelman, he clearly hates him.

What’s remarkable is that Siegelman has never been given a real chance to show why it’s not appropriate for Fuller to be his judge. The material I produced was never available. I think it was put into a separate file to keep it hidden.

Following the court of appeals decision to strike two of the seven counts on which Siegelman was convicted, the federal prosecutor on the case has suggested that he will seek to increase Siegelman’s sentence from seven to twenty years. Siegelman’s attorneys cite this as further evidence of vindictive motive on the part of the prosecutors. The Obama Justice Department has not yet announced a replacement of the prosecutors involved, and the Bush Justice Department’s team remains in control of the case. Attorney General Holder’s office advised the Huffington Post that notwithstanding the long-standing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, now amplified by a large group of attorneys general and the state’s former senior federal judge, the Justice Department had no investigation of the accusations underway.

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