Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and his lawyers probably expected to get shafted by the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. And they did.
In a decision announced last Friday afternoon, a three-judge panel upheld most of Siegelman's convictions and all of codefendant Richard Scrushy's convictions on corruption charges.
As we noted in late November, things didn't look promising for Siegelman when an all-Republican panel was announced to hear his appeal. One can only wonder at the arrogance and tone deafness of a justice system that allows an all-Republican panel to hear a case involving a Democratic politician who claims he was the victim of a political prosecution.
At the time, Siegelman lawyer Vince Kilborn said he had no problem with the makeup of the panel; that's the kind of thing a lawyer has to say for public consumption. But The Birmingham News article on the subject hinted that the Siegelman team was mighty concerned about the panel and its GOP leanings. As we noted here at Legal Schnauzer, the News article included curious references to a number of controversial decisions the judges had been involved in:
I find it hard to believe that News reporters Kim Chandler and Mary Orndorff would, on their own, go to the trouble of looking up controversial decisions these judges have been involved in. It looks to me like someone fed them that information, and it probably was someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy team. Why would someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy side feed that information to the reporters? Because they think the makeup of this panel stinks to high heaven--but they feel they can't say that publicly.
Muriel Kane has written an excellent overview of the three judges on the Siegelman panel. She notes that Gerald Bard Tjoflat and James C. Hill both originally were appointed to the federal bench by Richard Nixon and to the appellate court by Gerald Ford. The third, J.L. Edmondson, was appointed first by Ronald Reagan and named chief judge of the 11th Circuit by George W. Bush in 2002.
Let me repeat: One of the Siegelman panelists owes his title as chief judge to George W. Bush--and it's reasonable to assume that Karl Rove played a hand in making that appointment!
Gee, I can't imagine why anyone would raise concerns about the impartiality of this panel.
Perhaps most alarming is the role Tjoflat played in Karl Rove's ascendancy to political prominence. Tjoflat was part of a three-judge panel that weighed in on the 1994 election contest for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice between Republican Perry Hooper Sr. and Democrat Sonny Hornsby.
The panel upheld a lower-court ruling that threw out 1,700 unwitnessed absentee ballots, making Hooper the winner.
Karl Rove was intimately involved in the Hooper/Hornsby race, and his efforts to get Hooper elected under controversial circumstances signaled a sea change in Alabama courts, which once were all Democratic and now lean way to the right.
Rove used his success in the Hooper/Hornsby race as a springboard to national political prominence.
The only way the deck could have been stacked more against Siegelman would have been for the panel to include William Pryor, the former Alabama attorney general who initiated the state investigation of Siegelman. Pryor did that, of course, after winning a campaign that was managed by . . . Karl Rove.
What can citizens take from the 11th Circuit's ruling on the Siegelman case? That our federal courts are corrupt at both the trial and appellate levels.
Sadly, the Obama administration has shown no signs yet that it has the stomach for helping to clean up the mess. And Obama's White House counsel, Greg Craig, appears to be doing his best to protect Rove.
The Siegelman case, from the outset, has been about politics and not facts or the law. The 11th Circuit panel ensured that it would remain on a political track.