One of Alabama's most notorious prosecutorial thugs over the past decade or so might be on the verge of receiving some richly deserved scrutiny.
Matt Hart currently serves as a "public corruption special prosecutor" under Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. But Hart perhaps is best known for his actions as a federal prosecutor under Alice Martin, who served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama during the George W. Bush years.
A Tuscaloosa contractor who was found not guilty in 2010 on corruption charges now is seeking to unseal records that might show Hart abused the federal grand-jury process in that case. Roger Taylor, president of Hall-Taylor Construction, was charged in connection with an investigation of the Alabama two-year college system, but a jury acquitted him on all eight counts.
Taylor's attorneys long have argued that their client was the victim of abusive prosecutorial tactics. They renewed that argument after recently receiving a call from a newspaper reporter working on an investigative series about the federal grand-jury system. From a report at al.com:
Tuscaloosa contractor Roger Taylor, who was found not guilty two years ago of bribery in the federal probe of Alabama's two-year college system, is now trying to unseal court records regarding his claim that prosecutors abused the federal grand jury system in his case.
Taylor made the request after The Wall Street Journal recently contacted one of his attorneys seeking comment for that newspaper's investigation into the federal grand jury system.
"The reporter had specific questions about this case which the undersigned (attorney) could not answer without fear of revealing information which had been sealed during the course of this case," according to Taylor's motion filed by attorney J. Mark White.
"I think that the record pretty well shows that the abuse of the grand jury system was a significant issue in the case . . . and would have been on appeal if we would have not won."
Matt Hart's reputation for thuggish tactics came to light for most citizens in 2004 when former U.S. Circuit Judge U.W. Clemon cited him for contempt of court in the Medicaid-fraud case against former Governor Don Siegelman and codefendants Paul Hamrick and Phillip Bobo. Prosecutors dropped those charges, in Birmingham, after Clemon ruled they had insufficient evidence for a conspiracy claim.
Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy later faced bribery-related charges in Montgomery, and that case led to convictions and has been widely called the most notorious political prosecution in U.S. history. Hart's fingerprints, it turned out, were all over that case, too--as we reported in a post titled "Prosecutors Used 'Sex Scandal' to Intimidate Key Witness in Siegelman Case."
Who led the effort to intimidate chief prosecution witness Nick Bailey? According to Andrew Kreig's reporting at Huffington Post, based on an affidavit from Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate, it was Matt Hart. From our July 2009 report on the matter:
What did prosecutor Matt Hart say that caused Bailey to be visibly shaken? Kreig provides the story:
"Nick was told that the government was working to prevent the publicizing of an alleged sexual relationship between Nick and Don Siegelman," Pate wrote. "Nick also told me that one of the agents working the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution asked him whether he had ever taken illegal drugs with Governor Siegelman or had a sexual relationship with him. These comments had a dramatic effect on Nick, and, in my observation, added significantly to the pressure he felt to go along with whatever the prosecutors wanted him to say."
Hart apparently used similar tactics in the Roger Taylor case, and Taylor's attorneys now are seeking to unseal court records that might prove it. From a recent al.com report:
Taylor's attorneys argued at that April 2010 hearing that their client's constitutional rights were compromised during the federal grand jury process and that the indictment should be tossed out. Augusta Dowd, another of Taylor's attorneys, had said at that hearing that assistant U.S. attorney Matt Hart used "unacceptable and unethical tactics" with grand jury witnesses, including misleading them and threatening them with prosecution.
Misleading witnesses, threatening them with sex scandals and prosecutions? Is there anything Matt Hart won't try in order to win a case? Will he ever be held accountable for years of such abuse?
Perhaps we are about to find out.