Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Justice Creeps Forward In An Alabama Racial Prosecution

We've heard about selective prosecutions and political prosecutions under the George W. Bush Department of Justice. But the Alex Latifi case in Alabama can best be described as a "racial prosecution." And that makes it one of the ugliest Bush fiascoes of all.

Latifi, the president of a Huntsville-based defense contracting company called Axion, beat a bogus prosecution that was brought by the feds. But his company was left in tatters, and he and his lawyers now are fighting for justice through a post-trial process that moves at a glacial pace.

As usual, the Alabama press is not helping matters. The Huntsville Times deserves our Most Deceptive Headline Award. And it's just like a major Alabama newspaper to screw up the headline on an extremely important story.

If a book ever is written about the ugliness of the Bush DOJ, the Latifi case will deserve its own lengthy chapter. Substantial evidence suggests that Latifi was targeted because he is a Democrat of Iranian descent, that prosecutors pursued the case even though they knew Latifi had committed no crime, and that prosecutors wanted to put Latifi out of business whether he was guilty or not.

Did a recent headline in The Huntsville Times reflect any of that? Nope. The headline, "Judge Denies Latifi Hearing," hints that an innocent man once again was betrayed by a dysfunctional justice system. Fortunately, the article itself, by reporter Brian Lawson, tells a different story.

Lawson reports that U.S. District Judge Inge Johnson postponed a hearing in the Latifi case because the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta still is considering Latifi's request that the government pay his attorney fees after it failed to convict him on arms-export charges. The appeals court has ordered a stay in the case until that matter is resolved, so Johnson put her hearing on hold.

But prosecutors hardly are out of the woods. Defense attorneys have alleged criminal misconduct by the prosecution, and the U.S. Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating. Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under Bush, directed the Latifi case. Writes Lawson:

The U.S. Attorney's office in Birmingham, which brought the case, has said there was no illegal conduct by prosecutors and even if some evidence was not presented to the defense before the trial, Latifi was not harmed, because he was acquitted.

Latifi asked in his court filing that former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin and Assistant U.S. Attorneys David Estes and Angela Debro be subject to the hearing for possible contempt charges. Latifi said the prosecution did not share evidence proving his innocence with the defense and induced a witness to testify falsely about that same evidence.

Latifi's filing also said Army Criminal Investigation Command investigators David Balwinski and Marcus Mills should also be considered for contempt charges. The command's Chief of Public Affairs Chris Grey said Thursday, "It would be inappropriate for us to comment on any matter before a court or any matter undergoing a legal proceeding."

The case of former Governor Don Siegelman is by far the best known apparent political prosecution in Alabama during the Bush years. But the Latifi case deserves close attention from those who hope to see Bush officials held accountable for turning the DOJ into a political weapon.

The essential charge against Latifi was that he had sent a classified drawing for a Blackhawk-helicopter part to a Chinese company. But the case fell apart almost from the start. Here is how Lynda Edwards, of the ABA Journal, put it:

The trial was potholed with crazy. The government’s key informant was a fired company secretary convicted of stealing from Axion and forging Latifi’s signature. She said on the witness stand she sabotaged Axion records. The judge excluded a top government fraud attorney from court for bizarre conduct. The drawing at issue was marked both “unclassified” and “uncontrolled.” China owns Black Hawk helicopters and can examine the part anytime it wants.

Will Alex Latifi eventually get justice? It's too early to say. But if Attorney General Eric Holder has any interest at all in cleaning up the mess he inherited from the Bush administration, the Latifi case cannot be ignored.

Where do things stand now? Here's how The Huntsville Times puts it, going back to the day that Johnson dismissed the charges at trial:

Johnson later ruled that Latifi should be awarded about $363,000 to cover the costs of his defense and related legal work on the government's efforts to seize his business assets.

In August a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit reversed Johnson's ruling on the fee award. The panel found Latifi could not be compensated for the costs of criminal defense work by his lawyers under a statute designed for civil cases.

Latifi's lawyers have asked the full 11th Circuit to review that decision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don't let the bastards get you down!

Like the title of your post justice creeps slowly.

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