It was good to see former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman wearing a coat and tie and looking remarkably fit last night on MSNBC's The Verdict, with Dan Abrams.
Other than Sunday night's brief appearance on 60 Minutes, the last time most of us had seen Siegelman on television he was wearing the garb of a federal prisoner.
One can only imagine how good it must have felt for Siegelman to tell his story--or at least a portion of it--after spending nine months silenced and stashed away in the federal prison system. And it seemed appropriate that he would answer questions from Abrams, who picked up on problems with the Siegelman case before anyone else on the national television stage.
What did we learn from Siegelman's appearance on the verdict? Here at Legal Schnauzer, the following points made our ears stand up:
The GOP and Jury Instructions
Abrams asked a question that you often hear in situations like this: "You were convicted by a jury of your peers. How do you explain that?"
Siegelman had a ready reply. He said that U.S. Judge Mark Fuller gave unlawful jury instructions. Naturally, it is easy for a jury to come back with an incorrect verdict when they are given incorrect instructions.
I haven't seen the Siegelman trial transcript, so I don't know the content of Fuller's jury instructions. But a transcript finally exists, and it appears that the former governor has had a chance to look at it closely. Siegelman's statement on The Verdict was the strongest indication so far that improper jury instructions played a huge role in his conviction.
Giving bad jury instructions appears to be a specialty of GOP judges. Fuller, of course, is a George W. Bush appointee. We have written at length here at Legal Schnauzer about the unlawful jury instructions given in the Paul Minor case by Mississippi federal judge Henry Wingate, a Reagan appointee.
I've seen monkey business with juries in an up-close way. Some funky stuff took place with the jury in my case. How extensive was it and what form did it take? I'm in the process of trying to figure that out.
One of the biggest myths about American justice is that the jury is sacred and beyond the meddling of judges and others. Experience tells me that is not the case at all. And one of the best ways to meddle with the jury is by giving them unlawful jury instructions.
Don Siegelman brought the problem with jury instructions to the public's attention in a major way last night.
Worse Than Watergate
Perhaps the key soundbite of the interview was this from Siegelman:
"This case will make Watergate look like child's play if Congress will just dig into things."
Siegelman made it clear that problems with our justice system go way beyond his case. He mentioned, by name, the case involving Georgia Thompson in Wisconsin. But other cases involve Paul Minor and two former state judges in Mississippi and Cyril Wecht in Pennsylvania. And that doesn't even go into the firings of U.S. attorneys across the country.
It also does not go into the problems in state courts, which is one of our primary topics here at Legal Schnauzer. My case in Alabama state courts has connections to many of the same unsavory GOP characters who play central roles in the Siegelman saga.
We might not know it for 10 or 20 or 30 years. But when the full story of American justice during the George W. Bush era is known, I think Siegelman is right on target. It will be considered the worst scandal in American history, far worse than Watergate.
Looking Under Rocks in Alabama
Siegelman said Karl Rove's fingerprints are all over his conviction. But he did not stop with the former White House advisor.
Key Republican leaders in Alabama also need to be called before the House Judiciary Committee, Siegelman said. These include Business Council of Alabama head Bill Canary and U.S. attorneys Leura Canary and Alice Martin.
This also should include an inquiry into the money trail that traveled through disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and helped Bob Riley defeat Siegelman in 2002. And it should include a look at the "funny numbers" that popped up in the middle of the night in Baldwin County and helped Riley to a come-from-behind win in that 2002 election.
This all hit mighty close to home in the Schnauzer household as the wife and I watched The Verdict. All of these names--Alice Martin, Bill Canary, Leura Canary, Bob Riley. Who has ties to all of them?
None other than Dax Swatek, whose father Bill Swatek filed the fraudulent lawsuit against me that started my legal nightmare and led to this blog. Do Dax Swatek's connections to Alabama Republican royalty help protect his father from the consequences of filing an bogus lawsuit? Sure looks like it from here.