Sunday, May 17, 2009

Judge in Siegelman Case Faces Renewed Impeachment Effort

Mark Fuller, the Alabama federal judge who oversaw the Don Siegelman case, is facing a renewed impeachment effort amid allegations that he tried to defraud a state pension system and earned millions of dollars from military contracts during the Bush administration.

Missouri attorney Paul Benton Weeks said Fuller punished Siegelman in retaliation for an investigation Weeks conducted in 2003 that revealed extensive financial wrongdoing in two Alabama counties where Fuller had served as district attorney. A Siegelman appointee assisted in the investigation, which showed that Fuller engaged in criminal behavior before being appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush, Weeks said.

Meanwhile, a new investigation shows that Doss Aviation, with Fuller as majority owner, has been awarded more than $300 million in federal contracts since Fuller began presiding over the Siegelman case in 2005.

The latest on the Siegelman case comes from an investigative report at Huffington Post by veteran attorney and journalist Andrew Kreig, who currently is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.

Weeks and Kreig will conduct a media teleconference at 10 a.m., Eastern time, on Monday (5/18). A Department of Justice spokesman and Judge Fuller have been invited to participate in the teleconference. Kreig sent interview requests to Fuller via U.S. mail and telephone. He has received no response.

Reports Kreig:

The Alabama federal judge who presided over the 2006 corruption trial of the state's former governor holds a grudge against the defendant for helping to expose the judge's own alleged corruption six years ago. Former Gov. Don Siegelman therefore deserves a new trial with an unbiased judge─not one whose privately owned company, Doss Aviation, has been enriched by the Bush administration's award of $300 million in contracts since 2006, making the judge millions in non-judicial income.

These are the opinions of Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who is speaking out publicly for the first time since his effort in 2003 to obtain the impeachment of U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery on Doss Aviation-related allegations.

Kreig's report comes at a critical time in the Siegelman case. The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld most of the convictions against Siegelman. Federal prosecutors are asking that the former governor receive a 20-year sentence, almost triple his original sentence. With the 11th Circuit refusing last week to grant a review by the entire court, the case stands to return to Fuller for resentencing.

That's a frightening prospect, Weeks says, because Fuller clearly is not impartial toward the former governor. Fuller's grudge originated with the financial impropriety that Weeks uncovered with the help of Gary McAliley, a Siegelman appointee who succeeded Fuller as district attorney over two south Alabama counties:

"Siegelman deserved a fair judge, and what he got is one who holds a grudge against him for my impeachment effort," says Weeks. "If Fuller had a trace of honor he would have recused himself immediately. Instead, he's part of the machine that pounded down the defendant. It makes a huge difference to a defendant whether the judge is protecting your rights, or letting prosecutors stifle them. All Siegelman needs to do to win a new trial is to put my 2003 affidavit on the table as Exhibit A."

Weeks practices law in Springfield, Missouri, and decided to conduct a routine investigation after the newly confirmed Fuller was assigned in 2002 to Murray v. Scott, a class-action lawsuit in which Weeks represented a plaintiff.

What was supposed to be a routine background check on a judge turned up information that was anything but routine. The initial check uncovered enough troubling information that Weeks traveled to Alabama to conduct a thorough investigation. He wound up with a sworn statement from McAliley, outlining corruption in the district attorney's office where Fuller had presided:

Weeks put his evidence into a comprehensive filing to Fuller on July 25, 2003. The filing alleged "clear evidence of criminal misconduct" by Fuller both before and after he became a federal judge. Weeks wrote, "The evidence of criminal wrongdoing identified in this affidavit implicates lying and perjury; criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud the Retirement System of Alabama (RSA) of approximately $330,000; and, misuse of the office of district attorney and federal judge in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy and criminal attempt to defraud."

What was at the heart of Fuller's corrupt activities? Kreig reports:

According to Weeks's statement, the problem was Fuller's cozy arrangement with his state staff that enabled him to lead Doss Aviation in Colorado Springs while also drawing a full-time salary as state district attorney in Alabama. Weeks suggested that the pay raise and pension fight for the investigator were, in effect, hush money.

The affidavit prompted Fuller's recusal from the Murray case. But Weeks' call for impeachment went nowhere in Washington, D.C. Weeks drove from Missouri to Washington to hand deliver his evidence to every member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds initial jurisdiction over impeachment actions. Weeks also delivered copies to judicial, justice, and legal oversight groups. He never heard back from anyone, and the matter died.

Meanwhile, new evidence shows how much Fuller and Doss Aviation have gained financially during the Bush years. Reports Kreig:

Recent additional research by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University found that Doss Aviation has been awarded more than $300 million in federal awards since Fuller began presiding over the Siegelman case in 2005. The scope of Doss Aviation's work is illustrated by the company's website, Among other things, it displays a photo of Doss Aviation refueling the presidential plane Air Force One as part of its extensive refueling work for the Air Force. The website also describes the company's vital role in training Air Force pilots, and in manufacturing uniforms for federal military and civilian employees.

Fuller never should have been assigned to the Siegelman case, Weeks says:

"I just wish I had known about Siegelman's case before his trial so they [defendants and attorneys] could have been able to understand the kind of animus Fuller has to have for Siegelman," Weeks says. "I guarantee that Fuller blames Siegelman for my affidavit. If you look at how Fuller treated Siegelman, he clearly hates him."

"What's remarkable is that Siegelman has never been given a real chance to show why it's not appropriate for Fuller to be his judge," Weeks says. "The material I produced was never available. I think it was put into a separate file to keep it hidden."

Why has new Attorney General Eric Holder been reluctant to review the Siegelman case, even after asking that charges be dropped against former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK)? Kreig provides some insight:

Weeks believes that Attorney General Holder finds it politically indelicate so far to step into Siegelman's case, especially so soon after he condemned the prosecution of former Sen. Stevens. "If it's one case of misconduct, authorities can look like heroes for investigating it. If it's two, they're opening the floodgates for reviews of all their questionable conduct."

Kreig notes that the 11th Circuit's ruling upholding most of the Siegelman conviction has not quieted critics who say the prosecution was politically driven and unlawfully conducted. The real problem, Weeks says, started in the trial court with Judge Mark Fuller. And Weeks does not intend to let that issue rest:

"There needs to be oversight beyond that appeals court," Weeks concludes. "They really contained the problem pretty well up to now. But there's no statute of limitations for impeachment, and this case shouldn't end with a new judge and new trial, or dropped charges against Siegelman and Scrushy," he says.

"I've been a fan of good judges for my entire 28 years as a lawyer," he says. "But when you get a bad one, with all the power that they hold, that's about as close to the devil here on earth as you can find."


Robby Scott Hill said...

Much of the continuing criminal enterprise in Montgomery is aided and abetted by Mark Everett Fuller. I fully support his impeachment. Where do I sign the petition?

Nell said...

Weeks drove from Missouri to Washington to hand deliver his evidence to every member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds initial jurisdiction over impeachment actions.?? Impeachment of judges, like that of presidents, begins in the House Judiciary Committee. I'm guessing Weeks delivered his evidence to the members of that committee.

Anonymous said...

It's OBVIOUS whose STILL IN CONTROL of our Judicial System, and its NOT Obama or Eric Holder!

If Holder moved SWIFTLY to ACQUIT Senator Stevens of Alaska, and Stevens was certainly GUILTY of lessor crimes, whereby Siegelman case STINKS of the most horribe & CORRUPT crimes within our Judical System, and Holder hasn't done a thing! Come on, don't tell me the Bush/Cheney Administration isn't CONTROLLING and running the Obama Administration!

If Holder could expedite Stevens Case, why hasn't he expedited Siegelman's?