One of the best written pieces on the political prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman appears in the current issue of B Metro, which bills itself as "The Magazine of Metro Birmingham Living."
Reporter Jesse Chambers focuses on Dana Siegelman and her efforts to free her father from federal prison via a presidential pardon. The article is titled "Crusade: Dana Siegelman Was Once Alabama's First Daughter, But She Will Always Be Don's First Daughter."
Chambers does a splendid job of describing the emotional and financial toll the prosecution has taken on Don Siegelman's loved ones--Dana, brother Joseph, and wife/mother Lori. Even friends and extended family members, Chambers reports, failed to grasp the evil nature of the injustice committed against Don Siegelman and his family. As the driving force behind the Free Don Siegelman Web site and petition campaign, Dana Siegelman has become the public face of her father's fight for justice.
The B Metro article allows Dana Siegelman to describe how the case against her father was flawed--how corrupt prosecutors, a compromised judge, and a tainted jury allowed it to veer wildly off course. But Chambers, while providing a thoughtful, sensitive treatment to the story of Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy, does not go quite far enough.
He provides compelling evidence that the final outcome, via a jury verdict, was unjust. But he stops short of showing how the case could not go to a jury--in fact, could not even have gone to trial--because the prosecution filed its indictment almost one full year after the statute of limitations had lapsed.
The public, I suspect, often gets lost in the details about what happened at the Siegelman trial. The eyes of many citizens probably start glazing over when they come upon a serious discussion of bribery law, criminal procedure, and such.
But most Americans can grasp the notion that many actions in our daily lives have to be done on time. All of us face deadlines, of one sort or another--and that certainly applies to federal prosecutors. Limitations periods exist, in both criminal and civil law, so that parties will not have to defend against charges that might have grown stale with time. Under the law, a violation of the limitations period--even by one day, by one minute past the designated time--is an absolute bar to prosecution. If you miss the deadline, your case is toast--no matter how strong you think it might have been.
Well, the public record shows that the Siegelman prosecutors missed their deadline by the proverbial country mile. We discussed the issue in a post titled "An Overpowering Stench of Corruption Emanates From U.S. Eleventh Circuit On Siegelman Appeal." Here is the key information:
What is the one issue that should have doomed the prosecution's case before it ever reached a jury? It was the statute of limitations, and the facts and the law, show the case against Siegelman and Scrushy was brought almost one full year too late. So regardless of what one thinks about the testimony of key government witness Nick Bailey, the shaky jury instructions, the questionable juror behavior, the weak evidence on a quid pro quo ("something for something") agreement, and the myriad conflicts involving the judge and U.S. attorney . . . none of that should have been a factor.
Evidence at trial showed that the alleged acts constituting bribery took place in summer 1999, and the original indictment was issued in May 2005. That's almost six full years, even though the statute of limitations is five years. Failure to initiate the case within the applicable statute of limitations, under the law, is an absolute bar to a successful prosecution.
Defense lawyers asked for a bill of particulars that would have spelled out dates that alleged misconduct took place--and that would have shown the statute of limitations problem before testimony even started. Such a motion routinely is granted in criminal cases--heck, even accused child rapist Jerry Sandusky was granted a bill of particulars--but U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller denied the request in the Siegelman case.
If Fuller had ruled according to law, Siegelman and Scrushy never would have faced a trial. But Fuller didn't stop there; he cheated the defendants again after the trial was over. Defense lawyers filed a Rule 29 motion, asking for a judgment of acquittal because testimony had shown the key bribery charge was brought too late. Fuller wrongfully denied the motion, and the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, misreading simple procedural law and butchering its own precedent, found that defense lawyers had waived the statute of limitations defense by failing to properly raise it at trial.
A clear reading of Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure--plus a pertinent case styled Phillips v. U.S., 843 F. 2d 438 (11th Cir., 1988)--shows that the Siegelman/Scrushy defense team raised the issue in a proper fashion and did not waive it.
Thanks to Alabama whistleblower Jill Simpson, powerful evidence shows that Alabama Republicans coordinated the bogus Siegelman prosecution via the Bush White House and presidential adviser Karl Rove. But those who have a hard time accepting Simpson's sworn statements should simply examine the court record. That both the trial and appellate courts could get it so plainly wrong on the statute of limitations--a straightforward issue that was proven at trial and should have been proven before the trial--points to an alarming level of coordination among judges. And that means the conspiracy probably seeped out of the Bush White House and into the machinery of our court system. It wasn't enough for Siegelman and Scrushy to face a bogus prosecution; they had to receive bogus convictions, which had to be upheld with bogus appellate rulings.
Jesse Chambers is to be applauded for providing an intimate look at one family that has been tormented by a broken federal justice system. Consider this:
The ordeal has taught the governor’s kid some lessons about human nature. “It’s amazing how many people think that politicians are not human,” Dana says. “I’ve gotten comment after comment . . . ‘Well, if he’s a politician, he must be corrupt,’ which is sad. It discourages good people from going into politics, thinking that the word ‘politician’ comes with such a negative tone.”
She says that some people even dehumanized her and Joseph. “A lot of people just saw us as politician’s kids and not as human beings who were persecuted and threatened and embarrassed and hurt, which was disappointing, but a good learning experience for me,” she says.
Some family members more or less turned their backs on one of their own:
Beliefs about the case and her father’s culpability among members of her extended family have been interesting to track the last few years, according to Dana. “There are people in my family who’ve never stopped to research the case, because . . . people don’t have time for this, so they chose to believe that dad was guilty, but they loved him anyway,” she says.
Dana says that some of these family members have come to view the case differently. “It’s interesting now to see their disposition change,” she says. “It’s almost like they have five years of apologizing to do, and they’re just coming back into my life and my mom’s and brother’s life. ‘We wish we had known earlier that you had been railroaded.’ She adds, “It’s incredible and wonderful, and I’m so grateful, but it is almost overwhelming.”
Just how bad was the railroad job? To understand that, you have to know about the statute of limitations. And we hope that Jesse Chambers will take a second look at the Dana Siegelman story, perhaps in a followup, and allow her to explain how the case should have been over before it started.
If other journalists follow suit, perhaps the public can understand just how grossly Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy were railroaded. Americans then might come to understand that a conspiracy was in play--and it went to the very heart of our justice system, causing innocent individuals to be imprisoned for purely political reasons.
Many of us will fulfill our patriotic duty by voting in tomorrow's elections. But the outcomes will not matter much if our constitutional rights to due process and equal protection are bastardized beyond recognition.
The president we elect tomorrow will take an oath to uphold the constitution. But if the Don Siegelman travesty is allowed to stand--and no one ever is held accountable for unconscionable violations of democratic principles--then that oath, and the constitution itself, will not mean much.