Former Congressman Parker Griffith said this week that the Don Siegelman case was a "political assassination" and an "embarrassment" to the U.S. Department of Justice. Those words, spoken in an interview with Los Angeles radio host Lila Garrett, were perhaps the most powerful statement from a political figure about the nation's most notorious selective prosecution.
The most profound words in the interview, however, might have come from Dana Siegelman, the former Alabama governor's daughter. Making a joint appearance with Griffith, Dana Siegelman cut to the core of her father's case--and shed light on the issue of judicial corruption, which plagues our justice system at both the state and federal levels.
With the exception of Harper's legal-affairs analyst Scott Horton and Justice-Integrity Project director Andrew Kreig, most lawyers speak in polite tones about even the worst federal justices--including Mark Fuller, who ramrodded the Siegelman case in the Middle District of Alabama. Neither Parker Griffith nor Dana Siegelman is a lawyer, so they did not pull any punches. Griffith called Fuller "a weak individual," but Dana Siegelman went much farther--and she illustrated the problem that corrupt judges can pose for all Americans.
The issue came up when Garrett asked about possible recourse, considering that the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case, and noted that "a raft of lawyers" must be working on a case that involves such a clear injustice. Dana Siegelman's reply?
It’s a funny thing. A lot of top lawyers wanted to take this case right from the get-go because it seemed like a blatant win, and they wanted their names on it. Dad liquidated (our) trust fund for college degrees, and he’s apologized to this day because he spent all of this money trying to get these great lawyers to do this case, and of course, as the case looked less and less appealing, they left. So there is no money left for legal defense, and we have a handful of people working tirelessly pro bono, appealing the sentence, appealing for a new trial . . . and these appeals are long in the making. I think we’ve been appealing for a new trial for almost four years.
Why the futility? Dana Siegelman cuts to the chase--and it affects many Americans, not just her father:
We had a great legal defense team--lots of people who really love dad. They are brilliant lawyers, but you can be the best lawyer in the entire world and if you get in front of a corrupt judge, there’s really not much you can do. And that’s where they found themselves.
Those words are so on target that they hurt--and they are the No. 1 reason we need legal reform in this country, maybe even more so than health-care reform. If you have good insurance, our health-care system probably serves you well--and that is the case for many Americans. Our legal system, however, serves almost no one--except members of the legal tribe. In some cases--as we know because Don Siegelman is a lawyer--the legal tribe will eat one of its own.
In theoretical terms, Dana Siegelman's words are flawed. After all, we have multiple layers of appellate courts. And any lawyer who witnesses misconduct by a fellow member of the bar, including a clearly corrupt judge, is bound by ethics rules to report it.
But what is the reality? Appellate judges often are more interested in providing cover for their trial-court brethren than in ensuring that justice is served. And the rule that lawyers must report misconduct within the profession . . . well, that's an utter joke. The law is our only self-regulating profession, and lawyers prove what most of us already know--that foxes make poor guards of hen houses.
That creates a situation that is horrific for victims of the system--and it's also hard on the lawyers who try to serve them. Says Dana Siegelman:
I’ve seen dad’s lawyers cry in the courtroom because they were just so exhausted and devastated that it’s turned out to be like this--and all of their hard work was for naught.