|U.S. Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson|
Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman is due to report to federal custody today in Oakdale, Louisiana, providing absolute proof that large chunks of Americans are perfectly willing to accept the idea of political prisoners in our "democracy," circa 2012.
We have written probably several hundred posts about the Siegelman travesty, and you might think that we wouldn't have anything left to say at this point. But you would be wrong, and that's largely because the case was so profoundly screwed up on so many levels that the news just keeps on coming.
In fact, the following question is on our mind today: Was the appeal in the Siegelman case botched in part because one member of the three-judge panel operates out of fear from being the target of a failed assassination attempt more than 20 years ago?
Law-enforcement officials initially believed that U.S. Circuit Judge J.L. Edmondson was the target of a gunman when a limousine window shattered in April 1990, with the jurist inside. This came just weeks after Robert S. Vance Sr., Edmondson's colleague on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, was killed when he opened a mail bomb at his home in Mountain Brook, Alabama.
Both events came as the Eleventh Circuit was about to hear an appeal in Avirgan v. Hull, a lawsuit alleging operatives connected to the Reagan and Bush I administrations were responsible for a bomb that killed one journalist and injured another in Costa Rica. The lawsuit threatened to blow the lid off the Iran-Contral scandal of the 1980s, and we recently presented powerful evidence that Vance was killed because, as chief judge of the Eleventh Circuit, it was feared he would push to overturn a lower court's dismissal of the Avirgan case.
Was Edmondson targeted for the same reason? Well, all these years later, it's not clear that Edmondson was targeted at all. But this much is certain: Edmondson was on a three-judge panel that unlawfully upheld bribery convictions in the Siegelman case--and that's why the former Alabama governor is set to return to federal custody today, on the curious date of September 11. (For what it's worth, Edmondson and his Siegelman-case colleague, Gerald Bard Tjoflat, also were on a panel that unlawfully upheld a trial-court's dismissal of a lawsuit over my wrongful termination at UAB. Are the two cases intentionally being linked in the Eleventh Circuit? Is this a case of "Let's screw Siegelman and the journalist who has written tons of posts about his case"? It sure looks that way to me.)
We've shown that the Eleventh Circuit panel botched the Siegelman ruling on multiple grounds--failing to overturn convictions in a prosecution that clearly was brought well after the statute of limitations had expired.
How could veteran judges get it wrong on simple procedural matters? Is it because Edmondson knows that his life, in fact, was targeted in 1990--and he wants to keep a lid on any case with possible ties to Iran-Contra? Does this add credence to reports that Siegelman was targeted for a political prosecution partly because he knew about drug and gun smuggling, using Alabama airfields, that was part of Iran-Contra? Does this mean that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, in fact, had ties to the smuggling operations and was elevated to the federal bench by the Bush family specifically to keep Iran-Contra secrets under wraps? Was going after Siegelman a key part of that plan?
To shine light on those questions, it helps to consider the shattered window in Judge Edmondson's limousine, back in spring 1990.
First, it is clear that Edmondson was traveling via limousine, under armed guards from the U.S. Marshals service, because of the Vance assassination. It's established that a second bomb was found, and defused, at the Eleventh Circuit's clerk's office. A third bomb killed a civil-rights attorney.
Authorities had reason for deep concern when a loud pop was heard and a window shattered on a vehicle carrying Judge Edmondson. Press reports quickly went out that an attempt had been made on the judge's life. Nerves were calmed when the FBI issued a statement saying the window broke because of an accident. From a press report at the time:
FBI agents investigating what caused the rear window of a federal judge's car to shatter have nabbed their culprit--a two-way radio antenna attached to the car's trunk--and have declared the case closed.
When 11th Circuit Court Judge J. Lawrence Edmondson's rear window shattered Wednesday with a loud popping sound, police panicked, thinking the colleague of slain Judge Robert Vance was the victim of an assassination attempt. Federal agents descended on the city, searching for a gunman. Roadblocks were set up, helicopters buzzed the Lawrenceville area and students were locked inside nearby schools for their safety.
The FBI said Friday the window shattered because a two-way radio antenna on the car repeatedly scratched the glass, weakening it.
Manny Sinkin, an attorney with the Christic Institute that was bringing the Avirgan case, never has bought that explanation. His thoughts can be found in "Murder in the Eleventh Circuit," an article that originally appeared in the Portland Free Press. A reprint by The Lighthouse Report can be found about halfway down the page at this link.
Sinkin recalls hearing about the Edmondson incident while he was traveling with a colleague named Marlene Smith, who was about to begin working for the Christic Institute:
When we heard the story, we pulled over to call Washington. I contacted the office of Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and asked what information they had on the attempted assassination. An aide to the congressman pulled up their wire service and told me that there was a massive manhunt under way and that helicopters were circling an apartment building where they believed the assassin was trapped.
As we drove across country that day, we continued to listen for more information. There was nothing further. The next morning, National Public Radio broadcast a story saying that the police had concluded that a defect in the glass or a rapid change in temperature had caused the window to shatter and that there had been no assassination attempt.
Marlene and I just laughed at the speed of the cover up.
Sinkin obviously did not buy the official story. And he provides this explanation:
When I returned to Washington, I looked up the profiles of the two judges. Judge Robert S. Vance was one of the great liberals in modern United States history. He led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic delegation to the 1968 Democratic Convention. That delegation was the first integrated delegation to be sent from Mississippi. The convention unseated the official segregationist delegation and seated the delegation headed by Judge Vance.
A man of such courage in challenging the status quo might well have been willing to go against the national security tide and reverse Judge King's order (dismissing Avirgan).
Judge J. L. Edmondson is a true conservative. If the government is on one side of a case against an individual, his assumption is that the government has all the resources and, therefore, a heavy burden to do everything exactly right. To the right of Judge Edmondson are ideological conservatives, who would not be the least sympathetic to the Institute's appeal.
When I reached Washington, I called the Eleventh Circuit to check on the status of the appeal. The clerk asked what case. When I said "Avirgan v. Hull," she said "Oh, Lord!" I asked "Oh, Lord?" She said "Avirgan v. Hull means duck and run for cover." Clearly in the minds of court personnel the death of Judge Vance and the attempt on Judge Edmondson were associated with the Christic appeal.
A three-judge panel ultimately upheld dismissal of the Avirgan case. "I have always believed the court acted under duress," Sinkin said.
Sinkin has returned to his native Texas, where he is executive director of Solar San Antonio. Edmondson now is on senior status at the Eleventh Circuit, and he just happened to wind up on the three-judge panel for the Siegelman case--and on the panel for my appeal.
Meanwhile, Don Siegelman is set to return to federal prison today--for his conviction on a crime that does not exist under the law, in a prosecution that was barred by the statute of limitations.
Are the Eleventh Circuit, and J.L. Edmondson, still acting under duress? It sure looks that way from here.