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Monday, July 13, 2009

Did Alabama Newspaper Defame a Key Figure in the Siegelman Case?

An Alabama Republican who played a prominent role in the Don Siegelman case claims The Birmingham News recently published defamatory material about him.

Gary White, a former Jefferson County commissioner, says the News published two items that indicated he stands convicted on corruption charges. In fact, White's conviction has been overturned by an appellate court, and the judgment was vacated.

Judy White, Gary's wife, demanded in an e-mail to Editor Tom Scarritt that the newspaper immediately retract and correct the material or face possible legal action. Judy White pointed out that, under the law, a vacated judgment places the parties "in the position of no trial having taken place at all."

The Whites voiced concerns about an article by columnist Joey Kennedy and a cartoon by Scott Stantis, both of which indicated that Gary White stood convicted of corruption-related crimes.

Judy White received the following e-mail reply from Scarritt:

We have considered your request, and we are removing Commissioner White's name from the online poll. Joey Kennedy is changing his blog entry to indicate that the commissioner awaits a new trial.

Scarritt made no mention of running a correction/retraction. And he made no mention of the Stantis cartoon.

How does Gary White figure in the Siegelman case? The Bush Justice Department went after White for allegedly taking bribes while serving on the Jefferson County Commission. But an affidavit from Judy White states that her husband was targeted only after he refused to give incriminating testimony against Siegelman.

Who led the case against Gary White? Alice Martin, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. And who appears to have an extraordinarily cozy relationship with Alice Martin? The Birmingham News.

Maybe that's why the newspaper was so quick to assume that Gary White stood convicted.

Will the Whites proceed with a lawsuit against The Birmingham News? From here, it looks like they have pretty solid grounds for it.

We will stay tuned.

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