Just last night here at Legal Schnauzer, we wrote a post that included this passage about the Don Siegelman case:
The 11th Circuit required trial judge Mark Fuller to justify in writing his decision for denying Siegelman bond pending appeal. We showed here that Fuller did not even come close to meeting his burden under the law. The facts are simple: By the trial judge's own words, Don Siegelman must be freed pending appeal. But he is looking at probably another 11 months in prison while the 11th Circuit does nothing about Fuller's remarkably weak memorandum opinion.
Here's a question: Why did the 11th Circuit ask Fuller to write the opinion if they weren't going to act on it?
Turns out the 11th Circuit was going to act all along--the justices were just taking their sweet time. Action finally came today when the court issued a four-page ruling releasing Siegelman from federal prison pending appeal.
The announcement set off much rejoicing among Siegelman supporters and many Democrats and progressives. But the news should have been welcomed by people of all political stripes. Whether you believe Siegelman was innocent or guilty, whether you think his prosecution was honest or tainted by politics, this much is clear: Under the law, he never should have been imprisoned while his appeal was in progress. That Siegelman spent the past nine months in federal prison is a disgrace to our justice system. The rules that allow a federal district judge to take such action need to be examined.
Word of Siegelman's release was not the only good news for folks who care about justice. Earlier in the day, a story broke that the House Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department to temporarily release Siegelman, allowing him to testify before Congress in early May. Turns out a temporary release will not be necessary. But the prospect of Siegelman testifying under oath before Congress has got to be tightening some conservative jockey shorts this evening.
So what does all of this mean? Well, here are a few Schnauzer thoughts as we near the end of a most eventful day in the history of American justice:
* I haven't seen the 11th Circuit's four-page order, but my guess is that it will let trial judge Mark Fuller off easy. But that should not keep the public, and hopefully the press, from asking serious questions about Fuller's fitness for the bench. As we noted here in a January 5 post, Fuller's memorandum opinion on Siegelman's imprisonment clearly showed that the "emperor has no clothes." Fuller exposed himself as a glorified con man who, after raising suspicions about his conduct, was desperately trying to cover his posterior. If I, without the first day of law school, could see what he was doing, I can only wonder about the honest impressions of folks who have formal legal training. Today's news should be a major step toward an investigation of U.S. Judge Mark Fuller--an inquiry that, if it is serious, should lead to his removal from the bench. And let's hope investigators look closely for criminal activity. My guess is it won't be hard to find.
* Citizens must remember that Don Siegelman was only one of at least four political prisoners in the Age of Rove. The three others--attorney Paul Minor and former Mississippi judges Wes Teel and John Whitfield--remain in federal prison for crimes they did not commit. How do we know they didn't commit the crimes? Because we spent 25-plus posts proving it, and our "Mississippi Churning" series can be reviewed here. In terms of political prosecution, the Minor case is every bit as bad as the Siegelman case. Let's hope the nation and Congress turn their attention to the Minor defendants, who by law must be freed pending appeal.
* Siegelman's release is a testament to the power of alternative media. Without the work of blogger/journalists like Scott Horton of Harper's, Glynn Wilson of Locust Fork News, and Larisa Alexandrovna of at-Largely/Raw Story/Huffington Post/Hustler, Siegelman would have little hope of being released any time soon. Without the work of Pam Miles and her e-mail listees, Siegelman would have remained in prison for the foreseeable future. It's impossible to overstate the impact of CBS and its 60 Minutes story on the Siegelman case. But that "old media" story would not have happened without the work of folks working in the "new media."
* Siegelman's release is just one step in what will be an arduous journey toward restoring a badly broken justice system in this country--a system that is broken at both the federal and the state level. In fact, I would propose that problems in our state courts are far worse than those in the federal system--and that's a scary thought.
* If our justice system is going to be repaired, it will take committed, firm-minded Democrats and whatever honest, objective Republicans are out there. I believe such Republicans--people like Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana--do exist. But the Republican Party in general has become like the Britney Spears of politics. The party needs to go into rehab, probably for eight to 12 years at least, to cleanse itself of some debilitating demons. That means Democrats must act like adults. It means Democrats must not, at any point, become arrogant. And it means that Democrats, using all legal and honorable means necessary, must win the 2008 presidential election. The Republican Party, in its current state, cannot be trusted with power. And our country cannot afford four or eight years of John McCain.
* With the economy in recession, the Middle East in a mess, and huge ice chunks breaking off of Antarctica, we've got lots of problems. But whoever becomes the Democratic nominee for president must move justice near the top of the heap for issues to be addressed. Our state and federal justice systems are infested with corrupt judges and prosecutors--and I feel certain they aren't all Republicans. Democrats need to act like the Orkin man, shining flashlights into dark corners and putting out roach motels to catch all the creepy-crawlies lurking about. If a few Democrats get caught in the boxes, good. Get 'em out. It's up to Democrats to act with maturity and objectivity. God knows Republicans aren't up to that task at the moment.