As we await the appointment of new U.S. attorneys by the Barack Obama administration, perhaps we should ask this question: Just how important are these appointments?
The answer is "very." And Alabama is Exhibit A when it comes to evidence that illustrates the ways corrupt U.S. attorneys can harm the cause of justice.
Experience and research have taught me that federal criminal statutes are very broadly written--frighteningly so. Clarity about federal law usually comes from the case law, and a U.S. attorney must have both the intellectual ability and the moral clarity to accurately determine what is a crime and what is not.
That process has been butchered in Alabama under the George W. Bush Justice Department From Hell.
Consider two cases, both involving Alabama governors:
* We all know about the saga of former Democratic Governor Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy. Siegelman accepted a $500,000 donation for his lottery campaign and appointed Scrushy to a hospital-oversight board to which he already had served under three previous governors. Despite law and fact to the contrary, U.S. Attorney Leura Canary determined this activity constituted a crime.
* Current Alabama Governor Bob Riley, a Republican, packed Alabama's Joint Patriotic Immigration Commission with his own major donors. Four of the appointees gave at least $390,000 to the Riley campaign.
How are Riley's actions different from Siegelman's actions? Answer: they aren't. So why was Siegelman investigated and prosecuted, while Teflon Bob Riley never drew scrutiny from law enforcement? Answer: That's what happens when you appoint political hacks as federal prosecutors.
It's clear that Siegelman and Scrushy did not commit a crime, and I would suggest that Riley probably did not commit a crime with his appointments to the immigration commission.
But I would further suggest that it's time for someone to look past Riley's Teflon coating and examine some of his other activities, particularly his associations with corrupt GOP politicos Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon and the ties that Riley and his associates have to the gambling industry.
For good measure, and hitting close to home, it might be time for someone to look into connections that Riley associates have to my unlawful termination at UAB and the broader corruption of Alabama higher education.
Will Alabama's new U.S. attorneys, appointed by an Obama administration, be up to the task? I would suggest that citizens should do more than just hope on that issue. We should do everything we can to hold their feet to the fire.