|U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson|
The outcome of the federal Alabama bingo trial, which produced zero convictions for nine defendants and 37 counts, has been described as "one of the most remarkable setbacks nationally" for federal prosecutors in decades. It also has been described as a "humiliation of epic proportions" for the Obama Justice Department and its Bush DOJ holdovers.
In a narrower sense, the bingo verdict provides proof that the Don Siegelman case, perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in American history, was unlawfully decided. It also provides proof that at least one other Bush-era political prosecution, that of Mississippi attorney Paul Minor, was unlawfully decided.
Ironically, the proof comes from the reporting of The Birmingham News, perhaps the leading mainstream-media cheerleader for federal prosecutors in "public corruption" cases.
Do you want even more irony? The Birmingham News has repeatedly praised the work of prosecutors and judges who ramrodded the Siegelman case--and the newspaper has hinted over and over that, in its view, the Siegelman case was decided correctly.
Isn't it interesting, then, that Alabama's largest newspaper winds up providing proof that the Siegelman case was NOT correctly decided. Do you think the News' editorial higher ups, the leading mouthpieces for our state's corrupt elites, will even notice what they have done? I doubt it.
Since the verdict was announced last Thursday, the News' coverage has reflected this primary theme: The defendants really were guilty, but prosecutors from Washington screwed up the case. As usual, columnist John Archibald carries the water for his big bosses, with a piece titled "Verdict No Surprise: Prosecutors Bungled Bingo Case." Consider this analysis from Archibald:
Federal prosecutors, especially the superstars brought in by Washington, had more slip-ups than a blindfolded banana peeler on a hockey rink.Archibald's attack on the Washington crowd is curious, given that the lead prosecutor on the case is listed as Louis Franklin, out of the U.S. attorney's office in Montgomery. That's the same Louis Franklin who played a lead role in the Siegelman case.
They stumbled picking a jury and fumbled as they misjudged the role politics would play in the defense strategy. They bumbled as they failed to realize how their star witnesses would ooze on the stand, coming across, after pummeling by the defense, as self-serving, politically driven and racist.
In its non-Archibald coverage, the News also made excuses for prosecutors, especially in an article titled "Vote-Buying Verdict Shows Prosecution Perils." Reporter Kim Chandler tracked down every former prosecutor she could find to point out that the feds had an overwhelmingly difficult task in this case:
Former prosecutor Ron Brunson, who was a prosecutor in the Northern District of Alabama for 15 years said prosecutors must be extremely disappointed to walk away without a single conviction.
Public corruption cases alleging that campaign contributions are bribes are innately difficult, Brunson said. In a robbery or murder case, prosecutors are trying to prove who committed a crime. In this case, he said, "You had to prove there was a crime."
If public-corruption cases are so difficult to prove, how did prosecutors maintain an almost 100 percent conviction rate on such Alabama cases during the Bush years? The list of those who are in prison--or might be headed there--goes on and on: Don Siegelman, Richard Scrushy, Sue Schmitz, Gary White, Larry Langford . . .
How did the feds obtain all of these convictions during the Bush years on "innately difficult" cases? Well, The Birmingham News tells us exactly how they did it in the Siegelman case. Reporter Kim Chandler inadvertently provides the scoop in her reporting on the bingo case:
The judge in the bingo trial told jurors that, to convict on the bribery charges involving campaign contributions, they had to find that there was an explicit agreement to trade money for an official action.
Let's digest that for a moment. The judge in the bingo trial was Myron Thompson, a Jimmy Carter appointee from 1980. Chandler tells us that Thompson, correctly, gave the jury the "explicit agreement" instruction from a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case styled McCormick v. U.S., 500 U.S. 257.
Public documents indicate that all sides in the Siegelman case agree that McCormick is the controlling law for an alleged bribe in the context of a political campaign.
It now is established that Myron Thompson gave the McCormick jury instruction--and it resulted in zero convictions. In other words, the bingo verdict was based on the actual law.
What about the Siegelman case? Well, the judge was Mark Fuller, a George W. Bush appointee. And public records clearly show that Fuller did NOT give the "explicit agreement" instruction that is found in McCormick. We have written about this several times, most recently in a post titled "Siegelman Convictions Hang on the Definition of One Word."
As for the Paul Minor case, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate did not even come close to giving the McCormick instruction. We've known that for a long time, and the Alabama bingo verdict simply adds to the mountain of evidence that Minor and codefendants Wes Teel and John Whitfield were unlawfully convicted.
It's established that the legal issues in the bingo case were identical to those in the Siegelman case. Judge Thompson said as much in public statements leading up to the bingo trial, as reported in an Associated Press article titled "Judge: Issue in Gambling Probe Same as Siegelman."
If the issues were identical, why were jurors given the correct instructions in the bingo trial, while jurors in the Siegelman case were not?
It now is beyond dispute that Don Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy were convicted based on unlawful jury instructions. Even The Birmingham News, in a roundabout way, admits it.
What are the chances that John Archibald or Kim Chandler will bring this to the public attention? What are the chances that someone in our "justice system" will take steps to correct what we now know was an unlawful verdict in the Siegelman case?
Our recommendation? Don't hold your breath waiting for either of those events to happen.