The bottom line? U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody screwed up both the facts (and lied about doing it) and the law on an issue that is central in the Siegelman case--that the defendants apparently were denied their constitutional right to an impartial prosecutor. In fact, Coody laid the foundation for U.S. District Judge Clay Land's refusal last December to release Siegelman from prison, pending oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit in January. A ruling on that appeal has yet to be issued.
We already have shown how Coody failed to review Canary-related documents because he did not even order them. We also have shown that Coody proceeded to lie about what he had done. While Coody clearly cannot be trusted on matters of fact, he also has problems with matters of law.
For example, Coody denied Siegelman's discovery request largely because the former Alabama governor had "pointed to no prejudice he had suffered as a result of Canary's involvement"--even though Siegelman presented actual evidence, thanks to whistleblower Tamarah Grimes, that Canary failed to abide by her recusal.
What's the problem with Coody's finding? Well, under the law, "no prejudice" is not the proper issue. Coody used the wrong legal standard.
Let's take a brief trip through key legal documents to show where the judge went wrong. This is from Coody's order, dated June 27, 2012:
Siegelman points to no prejudice he suffered as a result of Canary's communications. He provides the court with no credible evidence that the United States Attorney directed, managed, influenced or controlled any aspect of the prosecution of the case.
In this instance, however, Siegelman is seeking discovery regarding Canary's communications--and he does not have to show actual prejudice. The real standard, on a discovery matter, is governed by a case styled Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899 (1997). It is a U.S. Supreme Court case that has been cited in many lower-court rulings, including Arthur v. Allen 459 F. 3d 1310 (Eleventh Circuit, 2006). It is grounded in a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case styled Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286 (1969).
This is from Bracy, citing the actual standard that governs Siegelman's discovery request:
In Harris, we stated that "where specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that the petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that he is . . . entitled to relief, it is the duty of the court to provide the necessary facilities and procedures for an adequate inquiry."
As Siegelman's lawyers showed in an appellate brief, the defendant more than met the standard of providing "specific allegations." That meant Coody had a "duty" to "provide . . . for an adequate inquiry." But he did not do it; in fact, he lied about what he had done.
What does all of this mean for Siegelman's appeal? It shows how easy it would be to get at the truth--assuming the court wants to get at the truth. From the appellate brief:
Here, Siegelman not only provided specific allegations, but also actual evidence, which the Magistrate Judge and Judge (Mark) Fuller ignored, that discovery would have yielded facts supporting his new-trial claim. In addition to the emails showing Canary’s ongoing involvement, Siegelman’s discovery request was supported by Grimes’s letter to the Attorney General, in which she wrote that Canary “directed some action” in the case, made “suggestions” to Franklin, and wrote “all the press releases” issued under Franklin’s signature. . . . The district court could have sought testimony or evidence from Grimes—but did not. Siegelman also pointed to the FOIA suit, which turned up more than 500 pages of responsive documents relating to Canary’s disqualification. . . . The district court could have ordered the government to turn over these documents—but did not.
Most importantly, the district court could have ordered the government to disclose post-disqualification communications between Canary and the prosecution team regarding the Siegelman case—but did not. . . . A simple, targeted email search using terms such as “Leura” and “Canary” with “Siegelman” and “the Big Case” would have quickly answered whether Canary’s ongoing involvement was as extensive as Grimes claimed; if necessary, any responsive emails could have been reviewed in camera. Instead, the Magistrate Judge ordered no Canary-related discovery, based on his conclusion that Siegelman had “pointed to no prejudice he suffered as a result of Canary’s” involvement. . . . But a showing of prejudice is not required for a discovery request, which is proper if the defendant can provide “reason to believe” that his new-trial claim would be substantiated “if the facts are fully developed.” Arthur, 452 F.3d at 1247 (emphasis added). This error alone requires reversal, so that Siegelman’s discovery request can be evaluated under the proper standard. See Koon v. United States, 518 U.S. 81, 100 (1996) (“A district court by definition abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law.”)
Until now, Charles S. Coody has been a relatively unknown player in the Siegelman drama. But we've shown that Coody's errors of fact and law require reversal--and a legitimate inquiry into Leura Canary's recusal.
Will the Eleventh Circuit ensure that Coody's errors are corrected? Or will the appellate court simply try to cover up for him?