We are starting to see the fallout from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld most of the convictions against former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy.
In the wake of that ruling, federal prosecutors asked that Siegelman be given a 20-year prison sentence, almost three times his original sentence of seven years. Then the full 11th Circuit denied an en banc review, essentially putting its stamp of approval on the earlier findings by a three-judge panel.
Given the possibly drastic repercussions of the appellate ruling, we should ask this question: Did the 11th Circuit get it right, under the law?
The answer, on multiple grounds, is a resounding no. And our review indicates that the same politics that permeated the Siegelman case at the trial level also infected the appellate process.
As regular readers know, I am not a lawyer. I'm a journalist with 30 years of professional experience, and because of my personal encounter with corruption in Alabama's state courts, I've developed a better-than-average ability to research the law.
Since the 11th Circuit's decision was released on March 6, I've spent considerable time studying its 68-page ruling and comparing it to the 84-page appellate brief filed by Siegelman's legal team. I've also studied many of the statutory and case-law issues raised in both documents.
My conclusion? The three-judge appellate panel, made up of all Republicans, butchered the ruling in a way that almost had to be intentional. I see no way that a group of judges could accidentally get a decision so wrong, on so many counts.
That means the politicization of our justice system is still going on, even though George W. Bush, thankfully, is in Texas and not the White House. It means that politicization of our justice system goes beyond the schemes of Karl Rove and pliant prosecutors. It goes beyond corrupt trial judges, such as Mark Fuller in Alabama (Siegelman/Scrushy case) and Henry Wingate in Mississippi (Paul Minor case).
It also goes to our federal appellate courts, which are superseded by only one court--the U.S. Supreme Court. Given that the nation's highest court hears only a tiny portion of cases brought before it, the last real hope for most wronged parties are the appellate courts. That would be the U.S. appellate courts for federal cases and the state supreme courts for state cases.
The Siegelman case might be an exception. On the surface, it appears to raise questions that might be worthy of the Supreme Court's attention. But it never should have gotten that far. Any questions, in reality, have been created out of thin air by a corrupt trial court and now by what appears to be a corrupt or incompetent 11th Circuit.
The truth is this: The prosecution in the Siegelman case never should have made it to first base. That it would have to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to be correctly resolved is an absurd waste of resources.
For that, all taxpayers should send letters of "thanks" to U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller. Now, his buddies on the 11th Circuit are adding to the massive tab.
The thought that a federal appellate court is corrupt, or grossly incompetent, should send shivers down the spines of all Americans. But we can come to no other conclusion after studying documents related to the 11th Circuit's ruling in the Don Siegelman case.
Why does this matter? In the Siegelman case, it means that a man who committed no crime could spend the rest of his life in federal prison. And if prosecutors ask for a similar extension for Richard Scrushy, and it is granted, the same could apply to him.
How would I describe the experience of reviewing the Siegelman appeal? The words "frightening to the core" come to mind. And I'm not easily shocked anymore by judicial corruption/incompetence.
I've already shown that, in my own case, the Alabama Supreme Court acted in a clearly corrupt fashion. And I suspect it is hardly the only corrupt state supreme court around the country.
But somehow, I expected more from our federal courts. The 11th Circuit has shown that my expectations were badly misplaced.
Where to begin on the Siegelman case? The former governor was cheated on multiple grounds, so we will analyze the appeal in multiple posts. I will strive to make the posts as brief and clear as possible, keeping the "legalese" to a minimum.
We will start with our most fundamental finding: The statute of limitations on the bribery charges against Siegelman and Scrushy had run, and contrary to the 11th Circuit's finding, the defense raised that issue in a proper manner.
The bottom line? The government waited too late to bring its case. And the Siegelman team raised the issue in a proper fashion that should have resulted in an acquittal.
Anyone who has studied the Siegelman case will not be surprised that trial judge Mark Fuller got this wrong. Fuller's myriad conflicts in the case have been well documented.
But a federal appeals court also getting it wrong? That's scary stuff.
(To be continued)