Sunday, January 17, 2010

Are Obama and Artur Davis Creating a Train Wreck in Alabama?

A lawyer who played a critical role in helping the government achieve unlawful convictions in the Don Siegelman case has received a thumbs up from former Congressman Artur Davis as new U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama.

George Beck is the third lawyer that Davis has recommended for the post, which remains in the hands of George W. Bush appointee Leura Canary. The Obama White House eliminated Michel Nicrosi and Joseph Van Heest after they ran into opposition from Alabama's Republican senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

The Beck recommendation is the latest indication that Davis primarily is interested in courting Alabama's white/corporate power structure for his gubernatorial campaign. If Obama moves forward with a Beck nomination, it will be one of the strongest signals yet that the White House intends to do nothing about justice-related crimes during the Bush administration.

In our view, it also will be a strong signal that Obama might be headed for a one-term presidency.

Jill Simpson, Alabama lawyer and key Siegelman-case whistleblower, has made it clear that she sees Beck as a terrible choice for the U.S. attorney position. For one, she says, Beck's firm (Capell & Howard) often serves as Karl Rove's home base when he visits Alabama. The firm also represents Bill Canary, head of the Business Council of Alabama and the man Simpson has identified as central to a GOP plot to prosecute Siegelman for political reasons.

Perhaps more alarming than that is Beck's behavior in the Siegelman case, where he represented key government witness Nick Bailey. Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy were convicted largely on the testimony of Bailey, who had served as Siegelman's chief administrative assistant. Simpson says Beck allowed the government to browbeat his client:

Mr. Beck is the gentleman who represented Nick Bailey and let him be questioned 70 times and be bullied by Leura Canary's team of lawyers. And George never saw a conflict here even though his firm represents Mr. Canary who was causing (the Siegelman case to be brought).

Numerous reports have indicated that government prosecutors had Bailey write down portions of his statement in order to help him keep it straight. Those notes should have been turned over to defense counsel, but they were not.

Was Beck aware that this exculpatory material was withheld from the defense? If so, why did he quietly let it happen? Is this a serious breach of legal ethics? Does it approach a conspiracy to obstruct justice?

Montgomery, Alabama, was Ground Zero for Bush-era corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice. It could be argued that this is one of Obama's most important justice-related appointments--at least if he gives a rip about the concerns of progressives, the people who put him in office.

In fairness to Artur Davis, he presented two recommendations--Nicrosi and Van Heest--who seemed to draw strong marks from Democrats across the board. But the White House refused to fight for them, allowing Shelby and Sessions more power than they actually have through the Senate's "blue-slip" procedure. Now, as Obama approaches his first anniversary in office, it appears he is about to blow the Alabama appointment big time. Says Jill Simpson:

In recent weeks, Alabamians have seen numerous articles appearing across the state that suggest Senator Shelby can single-handedly block the appointment of the new Middle District United States Attorney by turning in a blue slip. For this reason, I decided to research the Senate blue-slip procedure to see if this was true. And I found that it is not true.

What did Simpson discover?

The Senate blue slip is an opinion written by a senator from the state of residence of a federal judicial-position nominee, such as a United States Attorney. Apparently, both senators, any time there is a new appointment, are sent blue slips to fill out to tell their fellow senators what they think about the appointment. At that point, they are able to submit a favorable report and opinion, or an unfavorable report and opinion, of a nominee. They may also choose to not return the blue slip at all. It is then the option of the Senate Judiciary Committee to determine what weight it will give the blue slip when considering whether or not to recommend to the Senate to confirm a nominee. The blue slip is considered a senatorial courtesy. But it is not a unilateral right for a senator to be vexatious in the appointment of a judicial-position nominee.

A law-journal article shines more light on the blue-slip procedure:

In fact, during President George W. Bush's reign, a professor at Cumberland School of Law in Alabama named Brandon Denny, wrote an article called, "The Blue Slip: Enforcing the Norms of Judicial Confirmation Process." The article appeared in The William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 10, 2001. In that article Professor Denny accurately stated, "that the Executive Branch needs to take a more active role in identifying what is perceived to be an abuse of procedure during a confirmation process." What he meant was that we cannot allow senators to abuse the blue-slip process, causing perfectly good nominees to be denied. The executive branch should take active steps to notify the public when a senator is abusing the procedure of blue slips in an effort to get his way.

It is clear that in Alabama today we have that very situation. Richard Shelby took weeks to object, so we have been told, to Mr. Joe Van Heest. However, the White House has not released what Sen. Shelby put in his blue slip when he objected to Van Heest. The White House should tell the Democrats in Alabama, who helped elect President Obama, what Senator Richard Shelby put in his objection. If Sen. Shelby is just objecting, without having made a formal report, then he is clearly perverting the process of the blue slip. He should be forced to state why he is objecting, and it should be for a good reason. This thwarting of the process is causing a good nominee to be denied, all because a Republican senator is being allowed to run roughshod over the White House.

Surely, President Obama is not going to allow a little senator from Alabama to tell him not to appoint a good candidate, one who is approved by both Alabama Democratic groups that made recommendations for the appointment.

Now it appears that is exactly what Obama is going to do. And it does not speak well for his presidency.


Robby Scott Hill said...

I'm going to do an Alabama Supreme Court on this one:

Affirmed with no opinion.

Bobby Mac said...

Obama is a Republican. He has used his bait and switch to continue to push the corrupt conservative agenda while many progressives that voted for him are patiently waiting for him to do as he promised, which will never occur. What cracks me up, is how Repugs bash him while he continues to do their bidding.

Brian Davis said...

The upset in Massachusetts is a harbinger of the future unless Obama makes good on his campaign promise to bring real change to business-as-usual politics in Washington. After one year in office, there has been no real change and voters are beyond frustrated! Sessions and Shelby still control the political climate in Alabama; one need look no further than Leura Canary's continued appointment as the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama for an example of that. Apparently there is no real effort to clean up the mess in Montgomery because Nick Bailey's defense attorney has been recommended as Canary's replacement. Does anyone in the Obama Administration exercise good common sense in making these appointments - or is it just business as usual?

Anonymous said...

This article is absurd. If a man is qualified, let him have the job. It is ridiculous to harangue him on issues that he had no control over. There is no way anyone of you could know the reasons for the happenings of the Siegalman case. And what in the world does any of this have to do with Obama. Yes, he ultimately approves these people, but it is a minor issue in the grand scheme of an administration. Stop making a mountain of an ant hill. I am not by any means an Obama supporter, in fact, I am far from it. However, approving Beck would be a smart decision on his part, and I really believe he is suited for the job.