In a story that broke just moments ago, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed bribery-related convictions in the Don Siegelman case, but left other convictions in place.
Early wire reports are sketchy, but here is what appears to have happened: The 11th Circuit already had reversed the honest-services fraud convictions against Siegelman, and today's ruling kicks out the bribery convictions against both Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy. That appears to mean that the only remaining conviction against Siegelman is for an obstruction of justice count related to a transaction involving a motorcycle. It's unclear what exactly remains against Scrushy.
We have not had an opportunity to review today's ruling, but this outcome does not surprise us. In fact, we posted roughly two months ago that it appears federal appeals courts are issuing "split decisions" on Bush-era political prosecutions. By upholding at least one segment of the convictions, the appeals courts are giving the prosecutions some legitimacy and making it more difficult for victims to sue for monetary damages.
Victims might have their prison sentences greatly reduced, or eliminated, but justice still will not be served. In the Siegelman/Scrushy case, we still have motions to recuse trial judge Mark Fuller.
If the Eleventh Circuit has, in fact, left only the obstruction of justice count hanging against Siegelman, it proves what we have known for some time--our federal courts are a farce from top to bottom.
Under the law, none of the counts against Siegelman or Scrushy could be upheld. But upholding only the obstruction charge against Siegelman would be nutty. Our understanding is that obstruction, like conspiracy, usually is a "piggyback" charge that essentially rides on the back of another charge. If there is no other charge standing, how can there be an obstruction charge? Obstruction of what?
Here is what we wrote roughly two months ago regarding appellate courts' handling of political prosecutions, including the Siegelman, Sue Schmitz, and Paul Minor cases:
As we noted in a previous post (multiple posts, actually), federal judges often are more interested in protecting the interests of the legal profession than in administering justice. By rendering split decisions on the Siegelman, Minor, and Schmitz appeals, they allow a thread of legitimacy to cling to the trial-court proceedings. That will make it more difficult for the victims of political prosecutions to ever receive justice in the civil arena, from filing lawsuits against those who were likely responsible.
We have studied the Siegelman and Minor cases extensively and shown that the appellate courts, by law, had to overturn the convictions entirely. They didn't, and got away with it, because no one in this country holds federal appeals courts accountable--except the U.S. Supreme Court, and it hears only a tiny fraction of the cases that come before it. As we know from Clarence Thomas' recent machinations, the nation's highest court is itself ethically challenged.
At first glance, today's ruling appears to be another step in trying to cover up for the corrupt federal prosecutors and trial judges responsible for the Siegelman/Scrushy case. Americans should be outraged at such theatre of the absurd. Even if you don't live in Alabama, your tax dollars are being used to support federal courts that engage in clear and grotesque subterfuge.