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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Were Siegelman and Minor Prosecutions True "Inside Jobs"?

Don Siegelman, Paul Minor, and their codefendants hardly stand alone as targets of a rampaging Bush Justice Department. But why have those two Deep South prosecutions stood out as examples of "justice" run amok?

Perhaps it's because the judges who presided over the cases clearly were in on the fixes.

After studying the behavior of U.S. District judges Mark Fuller (Siegelman case) and Henry Wingate (Minor case), we've known for some time that they were part of the "inside jobs" that resulted in bogus convictions.

But it appears that view is becoming more well understood around the nation.

The National Law Journal (NLJ) reports that more than a dozen federal district judges have taken the extraordinary step of contacting the Justice Department since January to express concern about serious misconduct by federal prosecutors.

Scott Horton, legal-affairs contributor at Harper's magazine and a law professor at Columbia University, notes:

These cases come out of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan and Georgia. Strangely, no judges in Alabama or Mississippi have raised questions, even though senior figures in the Justice Department are now persuaded this is the seat of the most serious and most deeply entrenched abuse. Seems like the Alabama and Mississippi federal judges get along just fine with a little prosecutorial misconduct, no?

That's right, and it's because they are part of the misconduct.

In an article titled "Holder Promises Speedy and Transparent Reviews of Attorney Misconduct," NLJ's Andrew Longstreth reports that Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be taking the concerns of federal judges seriously.

The Longstreth piece currently is available online only to premium subscribers. But here is the full piece, which could have implications for the Siegelman and Minor cases:

When Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., took office earlier this year, rebuilding morale at the Justice Department was one of his top priorities. But The National Law Journal's Joe Palazzolo reports that after the botched case against former Alaska senator Ted Stevens--in which the judge found that prosecutors had withheld evidence--he's also having to reassure federal judges of Justice's commitment to reviewing complaints against his own attorneys. We'll have to see what that does to morale.

According to Palazzolo, Holder met with the nation's chief federal district judges on April 21 in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, which was closed to the public, Holder promised improvements to the Office of Professional Responsibility and asked the judges to contact him personally about questionable prosecutor conduct. Palozzolo reports that Holder even gave his cell phone number to the judges. How's that for service?

Chief Judge Mark Wolf of the District of Massachusetts took Holder up on the offer, reports Palazzolo. In a letter to Holder last week, Judge Wolf encouraged Holder to look into allegations of prosecutorial misconduct stemming from a high-profile mafia case and the prosecution of an FBI agent.

Assessing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct will be the job of Mary Patrice Brown, whom Holder appointed to the Office of Professional Responsibility after Washington federal district court judge Emmett Sullivan dismissed the government's case against Stevens. At the meeting Holder praised Brown. "She sounds like she's really a ball of fire," one judge at the meeting told Palazzolo.

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