Jim Brown Audio Player
Thursday, June 7th, 2012
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
POLITICS BEING CRIMINALIZED BY PROSECUTORS?
Don Siegelman was in his second term as Alabama Governor, and by most accounts was doing a commendable job.Â But he was a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state.Â And that apparently rankled the likes of then Bush political adviser Karl Rove and Alabama Republican appointed prosecutors. The justice department investigated Siegelman for years, until he was finally convicted of bribery.Â Any neutral observer who looks at what happened to Siegelman will conclude that the whole sordid investigation reeks of party politics and stinks to high heaven.
Don Siegelman’s passion was educational reform, and his efforts caused his downfall.Â He proposed creating a state lottery to fund a major educational push. He said the money was critical for offering quality education in Alabama.Â “You tell us how you’re going to pay for college scholarships. You tell us how you’re going to put state of the art computers inside every school in the state,” he admonished.
Siegelman raised significant private dollars for the lottery effort, and Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy, former chief executive of HealthSouth, contributed $250,000 to support the project.Â Later, Siegelman appointed Scrushy to a state health board, as had three previous governors.Â The board, under Alabama law, has to be made up of healthcare officials, and members receive no pay. And it should be noted that half of Scrushy’s contribution came after he was appointed to the board.
So was this a bribe by Scrushy ““ for a nonpaying appointment to a healthcare board where he had already served three terms by the three previous governors?Â And the contribution was not even to the Siegelman campaign.Â If this is considered a bribe, then every governor in the country, as well as numerous other state and local officials, should be worried.Â Appointments to state and local boards by elected officials, who have received campaign contributions from individuals that they appoint is about as routine as it gets at all levels of government.
Don Siegelman was convicted and sentenced to seven years in a federal penitentiary.Â He spent nine months here in Louisiana at Oakdale Federal Prison, and became a close friend with former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, who was also imprisoned under questionable circumstances.Â But an appeals court released Siegelman, pending his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, giving hope that his conviction would be set aside. A large number of observers weighed in on Siegelman’s behalf.
“I haven’t seen a case with this many red flags on it that pointed towards a real injustice being done,” says Grant Woods, the former Republican attorney general of Arizona.Â “I personally believe that what happened here is that they targeted Don Siegelman because they could not beat him fair and square.Â This was a Republican state and he was the one Democrat they could never get rid of.”
Woods has been joined by ninety other state attorneys general, all arguing that “a public official may not be prosecuted for the receipt of a campaign contribution in the absence of an explicit quid pro quo connection between the campaign contribution and an official act.”Â Ninety-one current and former prosecutors, both Republican and Democrat alike, all are saying Don Siegelman got a raw deal.
This sordid case has gotten still murkier. Jill Simpson, a Republican lawyer and political operative from Alabama flat out stated that the there was a Republican effort to destroy Don Siegelman. She testified under oath before congress that Karl Rove, President Bush’s senior political advisor and Alabama Republican consultant Bill Canary were both part of a five-year plan to ruin the Governor. Simpson told 60 Minutes that during a meeting in 2001, Karl Rove asked her to try to catch Siegelman cheating on his wife. She spied on Siegelman for months but “saw nothing.”Â Then she says she was told by Canary to stop her investigation because, “My girls can take care of Siegelman.” When Simpson asked Canary just who are the girls, here’s what Simpson says was the response:
“Oh, my wife, Leura. You know, she’s the Middle District United States Attorney. And then Alice Martin. She is the Northern District Attorney, and I’ve helped with her campaign. “
Recently, conservative columnist George Will reviewed the Siegelman case and wrote in his syndicated column: “Everyone who cares about the rule of law should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal”¦today’s confusion and the resulting prosecutorial discretion kill the exercise of Constitutional right, of political participation and can imprison people unjustly.”
I have known Don Siegelman for a number of years. We both served our respective states as Secretary of State back in the mid 1980s.Â I have always known him to be a dedicated, honest, hardworking public official. Does politics play a role in appointments being made? Yes, all over America. But that’s a far cry from those public officials who may be guilty of breeding criminal contempt.
If there is a crime committed in this sordid and unjust prosecution of Don Siegelman, it is the one committed by the federal prosecutors and political consultants in both Alabama and Washington, who subverted the law and instigated ““ yes ““ instigated, this unjust conviction. At stake is far more than Don Siegelman’s future. What is at stake is the integrity of the entire American criminal justice system.
The Supreme Court ruled just a few days ago. Without as much as a sentence of explanation, the Court refused to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal.Â His conviction stands and he will go back to jail for another six years.Â Lady Justice sheds more tears. And again, justice has been denied.
“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.”Â Martin Luther King
Peace and Justice.
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the country. Â You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com.Â You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com