If you think the craziness in Alabama federal courts ended with the Don Siegelman case, please think again.
George W. Bush no longer is in the White House, but Bush-appointed prosecutors still are running amok in Alabama.
The latest outrage came yesterday when a federal jury in Montgomery convicted insurance executive John W. Goff on 23 counts of mail fraud, one count of embezzlement, and one count of filing a false report with the Alabama Department of Insurance. Goff, of course, only faced criminal charges after he had filed a lawsuit against Republican Governor Bob Riley seeking information about campaign funding Riley had received through Mississippi Indian gaming interests and disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
While that was going on in the Middle District of Alabama, to the north in Decatur, State Rep. Sue Schmitz (D-Toney) was being tried in a case that has become theater of the absurd. Even though the Schmitz case would have to improve to be a joke, don't bet against her being convicted.
As the Goff case proves, anything can happen in federal court when Bush prosecutors are on the loose.
I was not in attendance at the Goff trial and have not reviewed complete papers in the case. And coverage of the case has been scant. (Interestingly, the Montgomery Advertiser relied on reporting from the Associated Press. The Advertiser apparently could not be bothered to have a reporter walk a few blocks to cover a case that involved Gov. Bob Riley and his connections to Jack Abramoff. Of course, the fact Riley and Abramoff were front and center might explain why the local fish wrapper tried its best to downplay the case.)
I know little about what went on in the courtroom, but the Goff case never was about the courtroom anyway. It was about politics, and that's what caused Goff to be indicted in the first place.
Here's what you really need to know about the criminal case against John Goff:
* In September 2007, Scott Horton of Harper's reports that interrogatories in Goff's lawsuit ask all kinds of uncomfortable questions about the sources of Riley's campaign funding. Sources in the Montgomery and Birmingham bar tell Horton that Riley is highly distressed at the nature of questions he might have to answer under oath and seeks help from U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in making the lawsuit "go away."
* In April 2008, seven months after Horton reported that Riley was pushing for something to make the Goff lawsuit go away, Goff is indicted. How questionable is the case against Goff? Consider the timeline.
* The criminal case against Goff mirrors charges that were raised and settled in an administrative case in March 2005. A Bush-appointed prosecutor decides to recycle the charges, once Goff tries to look into Riley's connections to Abramoff.
* We noted that the Goff case might actually smell worse than the Siegelman prosecution--and that's saying something. The AP story on Goff's conviction states that Goff filed a lawsuit against Riley while Goff was under investigation. But our reporting shows that Goff filed his lawsuit in March 2007, and the criminal investigation began in September 2007. Also, evidence indicates the statute of limitations had run on the Goff charges, but the criminal case moved forward anyway.
Are the press, prosecutors, even federal judges, making a major effort to protect Alabama citizens from the truth about their governor? Sure looks that way.
As for the Schmitz case, it seems to get goofier by the day. Two days ago, we were treated to a Birmingham News story with this headline: "CITY Workers say Schmitz rarely seen." But if you actually read the story, at least three employees in Schmitz office said they saw her more than 10 times. One witness said she had seen Schmitz in the office 15 to 20 times, but a prosecutor produced previous testimony that put the number at 10 to 15 times.
What's the deal? Do 10 to 15 Schmitz sightings constitute a crime, but 15 to 20 do not? Good grief.
Then today, we have this gem: "CITY founder had concerns Schmitz not doing her job." When you read the article, you find that the official actually had given Schmitz high marks on two employee evaluations.
The Schmitz prosecution is an Alice Martin Vaudeville Special. But while we suppress guffaws, we have to remember this is serious stuff--and we will not be surprised if Schmitz is convicted.
A judge once famously said that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to "indict a ham sandwich."
In Alabama, it looks like a Bush prosecutor could convict a ham sandwich--particularly if the sandwich is a Democrat or is seeking ugly truths about a Republican.