Friday, September 14, 2007

A Strange Sort of Recusal

So what kind of public servant is Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the middle district of Alabama?

According to a post today from Scott Horton, of Harper's, Ms. Canary is an unusually secretive public servant. And she is a justice official with an awfully strange definition of recusal.

In a superb piece of reporting, Horton provides critical insights into the woman who leads the office that successfully prosecuted former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman on corruption charges. The Siegelman prosecution has become the heart of the Congressional investigation into the U.S. attorneys scandal.

Some highlights:

* Canary has claimed that she recused herself from the Siegelman case because of conflicts involving her husband, Republican operative Bill Canary. Horton's research assistant double checked court files and found no recusal papers for Leura Canary in the case.

* Leura Canary announced her recusal and stated the Justice Department had advised her that no "actual conflicts of interest" exist. Of course, that is not the standard for recusal. The standard is the "appearance of impropriety," and Horton quotes a legal ethicist saying that "this is not a borderline or close case" regarding the requirement of Canary's recusal.

* Horton interviews senior career officials in the Justice Department and finds that the usual process upon recusal is for a neighboring U.S. attorney to be appointed to handle the matter. That did not happen in the Siegelman case. According to public statements, Canary turned it over to one of her own staffers.

* After having announced her recusal, Canary appeared at a press conference and gave interviews in major newspapers. What kind of recusal is that?

* Attorney John Aaron filed a Freedom of Information request seeking papers connected to Canary's recusal. He received nothing.

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