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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Do Guilty Pleas Really Signify Guilt?

Let's return for a moment to the case of former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, a Republican who drew the wrath of fellow commissioner Bettye Fine Collins and U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and wound up being convicted on corruption-related charges.

When I used to read articles about someone pleading guilty to a crime, I assumed the person actually was guilty.

But after reading the affidavit of Judy White, wife of former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White, I'm starting to read such stories a little differently.

The most recent guilty pleas I've read about have to do with the investigation of Alabama's two-year college system. A number of people--former Chancellor Roy Johnson, Southern Union State Community College president Joanne Jordan, a number of contractors who allegedly took kickbacks from Johnson--have pled guilty. But are they truly guilty, at least of any serious crimes?

Consider the case of Gary White. A Republican, White was convicted on corruption-related charges last year. His case was curious on a number of levels, mainly because it was an example of U.S. Attorney Alice Martin actually going after a Republican. Martin, a Bush appointee, has a rather lengthy history of targeting Democrats, particularly African-Americans.

But Gary White? Thanks to Scott Horton, of Harper's, we learned that even a Republican's prosecution can be politically tainted under Alice Martin. White evidently got on the bad side of the Bush Justice Department because he refused to give false testimony against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. And White really stepped in it by voting for Democrat Larry Langford as president of the Jefferson County Commission, denying the post to Republican Bettye Fine Collins. This enraged Ms. Collins, who as Republican National Committeewoman, could help fulfill Ms. Martin's dream of becoming a federal judge. When Ms. Collins said "sic Gary White," Ms. Martin apparently was more than happy to oblige.

We learned all of this from Judy White's affidavit, which The Birmingham News went to great pains not to report.

Two segments of Ms. White's affidavit really jumped out at us here at Legal Schnauzer. First, is this:

The agents later attempted to coerce a guilty plea from my husband, threatening that if he did not do so, they would add so many charges against him, that he would be convicted just because of the sheer volume of the charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Meadows offered his personal promise that he would have the jury "hating Gary White" and they would convict him, regardless of the evidence.

Who in the heck wouldn't consider giving a guilty plea under such pressure? Is this how the Bush Justice Department regularly conducts business?

Then Ms. White offers this:

On the day my husband was arrested, he was terminated from his position by telephone. The company official who terminated him met with him subsequently and said that he had spoken with an FBI agent, and that based on his conversation, and his fear of having himself and his companies investigated, acted to satisfy the agent's suggestion to terminate my husband.

So, federal agents would go after someone's job? Isn't that interesting? Regular readers might remember a series of posts we called "A Schnauzer Spy Story." That series focused on someone close to me who lost a job under very curious circumstances after I fought back against judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. I've also noted that in the past couple of months I've had some strange things going on with my own job, and I strongly suspect this has something to do with the fact that I am blogging about the corruption I have witnessed.

I remember reading about the Gary White case and thinking, "Gosh, what a crook!" Well, it looks now like I was forming an opinion without having the whole story.

I wonder if we have the whole story on these folks who have pled guilty in the two-year college investigation.

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