U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody lied when he stated in a public order that he had "thoroughly reviewed" documents related to the recusal of prosecutor Leura Canary in the Don Siegelman case. Two sets of legal briefs (see here and here) show that Coody did not even order the Canary-related material, so the judge certainly could not have reviewed it.
Coody is not alone when it comes to deceitful acts related to the Canary-recusal issue. Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, also have displayed dishonesty, incompetence (or both) when pressed about the documents.
John Aaron, an attorney from Alabaster, Alabama, has been doing most of the pressing, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2006 and a FOIA lawsuit in 2009. Here we are in 2015, and at last report, Aaron had received little or no meaningful material that was responsive to his request--in fact, the DOJ can't seem to even decide how many Canary-related documents exist, although we now know it is a lot.
A summary of John Aaron's journey through the murky world of FOIA presents the impression that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., are desperate to ensure that regular citizens never learn the truth about what really went on "behind the curtains" in the Siegelman case. Perhaps Justice Department officials want citizens to continue believing that they have a fundamental right to an impartial prosecutor--even though the Siegelman case shows that right, plus other due-process rights that the U.S. Constitution supposedly guarantees, mean nothing in the postmodern court system.
Let's consider some of what John Aaron has learned during a FOIA odyssey that is approaching nine years in length. (The FOIA summary is embedded at the end of this post.)
* In February 2006, Aaron requested the Confidential Conflict of Interest Certification and all other documents related to Canary's recusal in the investigation of state employees, including then Governor Siegelman;
* After being told that his request had been received, and then being told that he would have to resubmit it, Aaron received word that the DOJ had no documents that were responsive to the request;
* Aaron appealed that ruling and won, with the DOJ essentially saying, "Never mind our earlier claim that we had no such documents. Actually, we have 516 documents related to the Canary recusal--and you can have two of them, which constitute a press release about her recusal";
* Aaron again appealed in 2007, and almost two years went by before the DOJ released 187 pages of newspaper clippings--and nothing else;
* In May 2009, Aaron filed a lawsuit seeking the FOIA documents. During the course of the case, Aaron learned that more than 1,000 documents exist that are responsive to his request--and they were not disclosed until the lawsuit was filed;
Why is the DOJ withholding information that apparently is supposed to be public, under the law? We addressed that question in a 2010 post:
Among other reasons for withholding the records, the Justice Department argues that they involve communications between Canary and agency legal staff that are covered by attorney-client privilege.
While Canary is a high-level public official, the Justice Department also says that releasing the information could result "in harassment in her private life" and expose her to "derogatory inferences ... in connection with the underlying criminal case."
Are the DOJ's responses legitimate? Here is what Harper's legal-affairs analyst and Columbia University law professor Scott Horton had to say:
On June 21, 2006, (Aaron) received a response. It stated that no documents would be provided. It cited as the main grounds for withholding them Leura Canary’s desire for confidentiality. Generally a person is entitled to confidentiality concerning health issues and personally identifying information (a social security number, a birth date, bank account numbers and the like). The fact that information would be embarrassing to a public official is not a reason to withhold the information.
The bottom line? It seems the DOJ can't keep its stories, or its numbers, straight while unlawfully withholding documents that Siegelman, codefendant Richard Scrushy, and the public are entitled to see.
Thanks to Judge Charles Coody, we've seen signs of a cover-up in Montgomery, Alabama. Now we see signs that it stretches to Washington, D.C. Who knows how many nasty fingerprints have been involved along the way?