We have written several hundred posts about the Siegelman case and shown without a doubt that the case was driven largely by corrupt prosecutors, a conflicted and perhaps chemically clouded judge, and a compromised jury. But we also should ask this difficult question: Was Siegelman well served by his own lawyers? Did they make mistakes that contributed to his wrongful imprisonment? Did some of them have questionable motives?
Siegelman employed a revolving cast of lawyers, one that changed through the various stages of the case--from pre-trial, to trial, to circuit-court review, to U.S. Supreme Court appeal. It's hard to keep track of the lawyers without a scorecard, and one can only wonder how much Siegelman, his family, and his followers spent on the defense--and he still wound in prison, even though the facts and relevant law show that could not happen.
I know from first-hand experience that it can be extremely difficult to deal with a corrupt trial-court judge--and equally hard to deal with an appellate panel that refuses to follow its own legal precedent. But when a team of lawyers is paid big money--probably well into the seven figures--someone should figure out a way to keep an innocent man out of prison.
That raises questions about the performance of Team Siegelman. As a journalist who has followed the case closely since its inception, my impression is that some members of the defense team performed honorably. Others, however, merit serious scrutiny.
No. 1 on that list is G. Douglas Jones, a former U.S. attorney in the Clinton administration who now works at the Birmingham firm of Haskell Slaughter.
Veteran Birmingham lawyer David Cromwell Johnson was Siegelman's original defense counsel, but he died unexpectedly in January 2003. That's when Siegelman turned to Doug Jones, who was then with the firm of Whatley Drake and Kallas. Did it prove to be a good decision? Multiple sources tell me the answer is no. In fact, several say they believe Siegelman never would have come close to being convicted if David Cromwell Johnson had lived.
Jones testified in October 2007 before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on possible political prosecutions in the Bush administration. A transcript of his testimony provides insight on the actions he took, and the curious connections he carried, during the Siegelman case. (See document at the end of this post.) On the surface, Jones said many of the right things about the unlawful motives behind the prosecution. But upon closer inspection of the transcript, plus other written statements from Jones, a reasonable observer might ask, "What side was this guy on?"
Let's examine Doug Jones' actions in light of three key issues:
* Tolling the Statute of Limitations--Jones met with prosecutors in early July 2004, and they made it clear that their focus was on HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, his contribution to Siegelman's education-lottery campaign, and Scrushy's subsequent appointment to a hospital regulatory board--on which he had served under three previous governors. (See page 10 and 11 of transcript.) The government had a clear problem at this point: Scrushy's appointment had come in late July 1999, and that meant the five-year statute of limitations was about to run out. Prosecutors asked if Siegelman would sign a tolling agreement, extending the statute of limitations for 30 days. Jones, in an act of naivete, incompetence or intentional subterfuge, went along with the idea.
This would be like Auburn football coach Gene Chizik approaching Alabama's Nick Saban before the start of the 2012 Iron Bowl and saying, "You know, Nick, our star quarterback is sick as a dog today, puking his guts out. Would you mind putting off the big game for 30 days, so our stud player can mend and be at his best when we play you guys?" (Never mind that Auburn doesn't have a star quarterback; this is a theoretical exercise.) Can you imagine Nick Saban agreeing to that? Uh, neither can I.
Prosecutors essentially said to Doug Jones: "We admit we don't have a case against your client. If we had to bring the case today, we couldn't nail him with a parking ticket. How about you give us an extra 30 days beyond the legal limit, and that will give us a fair chance to send your guy to the Big House for the rest of his natural life."
Doug Jones, in so many words, said, "Sure, no sweat."
Don Siegelman was paying this guy to represent his best interests?
* Showing Love for Bill Pryor--Democrats don't agree on much, but they almost universally agree that Bill Pryor is a bad guy--and an even worse public servant.
Pryor was the Alabama attorney general who started an investigation of Siegelman almost before the new governor's fanny had hit his chair in 1999. President George W. Bush named Pryor to a seat on the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, making a recess appointment because Pryor was such a controversial choice among Senate Democrats.
Here is what Scott Horton, of Harper's, had to say about Pryor:
William Pryor, a ferociously partisan figure and one of the most controversial judicial nominees in recent memory, previously served as Alabama’s attorney general. He used his position to initiate a criminal investigation of Siegelman within weeks of Siegelman’s inauguration as governor. Throughout the history of the Siegelman investigation and prosecution, Pryor figures right at the center of it, concocting new theories, discarding old ones, and ultimately, after concluding that there was an insufficient basis under Alabama law to act, lobbying the Justice Department to bring a case. Throughout this period, Pryor consulted with and involved senior Alabama GOP figures in the matter. Pryor is also a friend and confidant of Karl Rove, whom he hired to manage his election campaign, and who played a key role in his ascendancy to the federal bench.
An assessment of a legal figure cannot be much more scathing than that. But guess what? Doug Jones likes Bill Pryor; he believed it when Pryor told him the Siegelman case had nothing to do with politics. (See page 4 of transcript.)
Jones even calls Pryor a "trusted colleague and friend." Are Scott Horton and Doug Jones talking about the same guy?
* Showing Love for Rob Riley--This might be Jones' most curious connection of all. Homewood attorney Rob Riley is the son of former GOP Governor Bob Riley, who probably stands as Don Siegelman's No. 1 political enemy. Bob Riley became governor in 2002 only when votes for the incumbent, Siegelman, mysteriously disappeared overnight in heavily conservative Baldwin County.
So how could Jones, as Siegelman's one-time defense counsel, become buds with Rob Riley? Well, they found a way to make lots of money together--and they were willing to overlook glaring conflicts of interest in order to grab for serious cash. This all stems from a massive federal lawsuit against individuals and entities connected to HealthSouth Corporation. The case generated more than $50 million in attorney fees, and as co-liaison counsel, Jones and Riley stood to make hefty sums.
Jones seems to be highly sensitive to his alliance with Rob Riley--and the boat loads of cash they raked in together. How sensitive is he? On March 31, 2009, I wrote a piece titled "Does Rob Riley Engage in Fraud While He 'Fights' Fraud?" noting that Riley faced charges of Medicare fraud in a federal whistleblower lawsuit at the same time he was helping to sue others for health-care fraud.
Taking issue with my post, Jones blasted me that evening on a well-known progressive listserv that is based in Huntsville, Alabama. I reported on Jones' response in a May 14, 2009, post titled "Striking a Nerve With a Key Figure in the Siegelman Case," going so far as to run Jones' listserv comment word for word.
Jones claimed I had jumped to "absurd conclusions," based on "political motivations," but he failed to point to anything that was plainly inaccurate in my reporting. That would have been hard to do, of course, because my post was based almost entirely on published reports and court records.
I've tried, on two occasions, to ask Jones about the issues noted above--and other matters. Both times, he has refused to answer my questions. He made a vague reference to "things you've written about me." But at the time of Jones' listserv attack, I had not written much of anything about him.
I had written about Rob Riley's apparent conflicts from his association with both the Siegelman/Scrushy criminal case and the HealthSouth civil case, borrowing heavily on the reporting of Huffington Post's Sam Stein.
Evidence strongly suggests that Jones had no reason to be displeased with anything I had written about him, but was peeved about my reporting on Rob Riley and the legal fees from the HealthSouth lawsuit.
Don Siegelman supporters, and he still has a lot of them in this state, might ponder this thought: "The Legal Schnauzer blog has been one of the foremost sources of news and analysis about the former governor's case. Heck, the blog's author even was cheated out of his job at UAB because of his bold stance in support of Governor Siegelman and the rule of law--and against politically driven prosecutions in the Bush years.
"Why would Doug Jones, as former defense counsel for Siegelman, refuse to take questions from Legal Schnauzer, of all people?"
In a series of upcoming posts, we will take a closer look at that question. We also will present powerful evidence of where Doug Jones' loyalty rested--and it wasn't with Don Siegelman.
(To be continued)
Doug Jones Testimony