Monday, April 17, 2017

Federal judge orders Justice Department to turn over documents in Siegelman prosecution, but with provisions that could extend an 11-year cover-up

Joseph Siegelman
A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over documents related to the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. This could be a step forward in a decade-long effort to reveal government misconduct in perhaps the most notorious political prosecution in United States history. But the inclusion of two two-word foreign phrases in court documents, could mean it will turn out to be a hoax -- another in a long line of government efforts to hide from the public what actually happened in the Siegelman case.

U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala (Northern District of Alabama) issued an order on March 31, 2017, for the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to turn over the requested documents, many of which apparently involve the alleged recusal of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary in the Siegelman case. OPR gave notice on April 10 that it had submitted the requested information.

That sounds encouraging. Joseph Siegelman, the former governor's son, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in June 2015, only to receive stonewalling from OPR. In January 2016, Joseph Siegelman filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Alabama, leading to Haikala's order that OPR turn over the requested documents -- and OPR's notice that it had, in fact, turned them over.

What happens next? If Haikala and OPR act with integrity -- and those are big "ifs" -- it could generate one of the biggest bombshells in the history of the American justice system. It could show how Siegelman was railroaded, and who exactly was behind the scheme. It could show that the DOJ is more of a crime-producing organization than a crime-fighting outfit. It could threaten the careers of numerous lawyers, prosecutors, and political figures.

But caveats are planted within the case, which is styled Joseph Siegelman v. United States Department of Justice, et al. According to the case docket, Haikala's ruling calls for an in camera review of the OPR documents. In camera is Latin for "in the chamber," meaning the documents will be reviewed in private, with the press and public excluded. It could mean the OPR documents, no matter how much corruption they reveal, could never see the light of day.

In OPR's notice of April 10, it refers to "Submission of Ex Parte, In Camera Material." Ex Parte is Latin for "from the party," and generally refers to a decision that is made with only one party to the controversy present. Does that mean the government is seeking to keep Joseph Siegelman and his attorneys locked out of any document review? Is this some kind of "double-secret probation"? Is this a form of blatant "bad faith" from the government? Given the government's conduct in the Siegelman matter, the answer probably is yes.

In another form of "trust me" justice, the public might be forced to assume OPR actually turned over all relevant documents. In theory, OPR lawyers could be subject to serious sanctions for withholding any documents. But could they, in reality, hold back the most damning documents and get away with it? Considering the behavior of judges and prosecutors throughout the Siegelman matter, the answer clearly is "yes."

Those who have followed the Siegelman case know we have been down this road before. U.S. Magistrate Charles S. Coody (Middle District of Alabama) wrote in a June 2012 order that he had reviewed documents requested by Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy and found "no exculpatory matter" that would "further their claims." Lawyers for Siegelman and Scrushy later filed documents showing Coody never even ordered the requested documents -- and he certainly never reviewed them. In other words, Coody lied -- probably to cover up for federal prosecutors.

The road to seeking government documents has been long and winding in the Siegelman case. It started with a FOIA request in 2006, a FOIA lawsuit in 2009, and years of stonewalling by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administration.

Are these documents sensitive? Well, the government has covered them up for 11 years, when both Republicans and Democrats controlled the White House. That has led to the current Joseph Siegelman lawsuit, with OPR supposedly turning over the documents and Haikala supposedly set to act with integrity while reviewing them outside of public view.

Madeline Haikala
Is there any reason to trust this process, to believe it will be carried out honestly? It will require a form of blind trust. Nothing in the history of the Siegelman case suggests our justice system is capable of handling this matter with integrity.

It all comes down to this: Can Judge Madeline Haikala be trusted? She is an Obama appointee, but given his dismal record on justice issues, that provides little grounds for hope.

We do not have access to the full case file, but these words from Joseph Siegelman's complaint are . . . well, we'll let you make the call. Here is what Joseph Siegelman asked for in his original complaint:

Plaintiff respectfully requests that this Honorable Court (1) issue an injunction ordering Defendant to disclose the requested documents, (2) provide for the expeditious processing of this action, (3) award Plaintiff reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs incurred by Plaintiff in this action, exclusive of pro bono services rendered, and (4) order any other relief this court deems just and proper.

You will notice that Joseph Siegelman did not ask for an in camera review.  He asked for the requested documents to be disclosed, for "expeditious processing" of the case, and for attorney fees and litigation costs, plus any other proper relief.

Here is another key point: Joseph Siegelman included a jury demand in his complaint. We are not experts on FOIA law, but the jury demand indicates all, or many, of these issues lawfully could be determined by a jury. That suggests Siegelman is seeking transparency, while OPR probably wants no part of a jury.

We see no indication that Siegelman wants the process kept from view of the public or press, to be decided behind closed doors by a one-woman censor/judge. The in camera angle apparently entered the picture at the government's insistence -- and with Haikala's approval -- during consideration of multiple summary-judgment motions.

The potentially monumental repercussions of this case cannot be overstated. It threatens the careers of numerous legal and political figures. It could turn the DOJ upside down, bringing extensive review and much-need changes for a corroded system that is badly broken. Depending on statute-of-limitations issues, it could lead to criminal sanctions and perhaps millions of dollars in civil damages.

Our experience has been that federal judges are driven to protect the status quo. They benefit from a system that is in stasis, and they tend to rule with self-interest in mind. But if Madeline Haikala proves to have iron-clad integrity and the "stones" to invite transparency, justice might finally be on the horizon in the Siegelman case -- and the DOJ could be set for a shake-up of historic proportions.


Anonymous said...

Don't know whether to get hopeful or not.

Anonymous said...

Got to be something explosive in these docs for gubmint to sit on them for 11 years.

legalschnauzer said...

With "friends" like Obama, Siegelman doesn't need enemies.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Haikala the same judge who covered up for the cop who almost paralyzed the grandpa from India for walking on the sidewalk?

legalschnauzer said...

Yep, same judge.

Anonymous said...

Classic example of prosecutors being interested in "winning" a case, not in producing justice.

Anonymous said...

I would be amazed if this judge has the guts to open up this can of worms. And it is a huge can of worms.

legalschnauzer said...

@9:52 --

If made public, these documents could open up the biggest scandal in Justice Department history. It would show the American people that we really do not have a justice department; we have a DOJ that is riddled with organized crime.

Haikala's inclination will be to keep it under wraps, and she will be under enormous pressure from her peers to make sure that happens.

Anonymous said...

So many ways for a judge to cheat on a deal like this. She can keep it all wrapped up. She can release some of it to look "open," but hold back the most damaging parts. As you say, this is "trust me" justice, by someone who does not deserve our trust.

Anonymous said...

If Joseph Siegelman pulls this off, he should be Lawyer of the Year.

Anonymous said...

Aboard the Eliza Battle the crew was observing the smoke plume of a M.O.A.B. Admiral Tyron stated that it exploded in Lee County. The Stranger in the Shadows announced the explosion was the start of Mike's plan"C". A government official wrapped his lips around what he thought was the"government tit", one too many times.The D.A. had encased a "Atomic Fireball" in a sugar cube to make a "sugar tit". The smoke on the horizon is the after- effect of the sugar dissolving. This public official knows why the Justice Dept . "went after" McGregor. Through a third party, this official was backed by the Retirement System of Alabama. This official knows why the R.S.A. hired Canary and fired Rich. This officials sister-in law works for ALDOT and knows why Auburn hired a private company from Tennessee to condemn property for the new 85 interchange. This same private company surveyed the land thief victims land 4 miles from the interstate. This public official had his property secretly de-annexed on June 18 2007. This official sold land to a developer who lost it to foreclosure when the builder could not get a clear title. Auburn paid one million dollars over appraised value for a small strip of this property,then the bank sold it. The builder also dumped 200 loads of dirt on Robert Lewis Yancey's property before it occurred to him that he did not own the Yancey property. This property is surrounded By Campus Crest. etc. etc. etc. People underestimate Mike .He has a plan.

legalschnauzer said...

@1:26 --

Any chance Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate was involved in this? Sources tell me Pate has made a lot of money from leasing land near interstates, mostly to Quickie Marts and such. Sounds like the kind of thing he might be involved in. Also, Pate, I understand, is connected to Paul Bryant Jr.

Anonymous said...

How many lawyers could lose their bar cards if this information becomes public?

legalschnauzer said...

@3:31 --

Very interesting question. A few such lawyers come immediately to mind -- Louis Franklin, Leura Canary, Steve Feaga, George Beck, Rob Riley, Matt Lembke . . . Perhaps this info would uncover whether Jeff Sessions (and/or Richard Shelby) was involved in the scheme.

We're talking about a potential bombshell.

Anonymous said...

The bank in the Eliza Battle comment was the West Alabama Bank and Trust.

legalschnauzer said...

@4:06 --

Thanks. That's interesting. West Alabama Bank and Trust is based in Tuscaloosa? I assume some powerful and moneyed folks are associated with that bank?

legalschnauzer said...

To reiterate, my sources say if an interstate exchange is involved in Alabama, or surrounding states, Stan Pate likely is a factor. For the record, Stan Pate was part of some curious and damaging activities after I was released from jail in March 2014. I haven't written about that yet, but Pate played a major role in Carol and me losing our house. It bothered me then, and it bothers me even more as time goes on, and I learn more about Pate.

BTW, Pate wormed his way into our situation on his own, without our invitation. He contacted Carol while I was in jail and acted like he wanted to help. Makes me wonder why he did that. The quick version of a long story: He told us he was going to help save our house, and then he reneged at the last minute -- ensuring that we would lose our house.

Anonymous said...

Remember this story about Stan Pate and Robert Bentley?

e.a.f. said...

this case is one of the strangest I've ever read about except perhaps those that go on in Eygpt, when they are politically motivated. It really boggles the mind. there has to be more to it. it is weird that the democrats under Obama never did anything to help Siegelman. Like who did he piss off so badly they left him in jail for yearsl

legalschnauzer said...

e.a.f. --

The theory among a number of observers, including me, is that Bush admin (Karl Rove), before leaving office, used the FBI to get dirt on Obama and associates. The dirt reportedly was sexual in nature and included Rahm Emanuel and was based on activities in Chicago (as in gay bath houses). I think it was used as leverage to make sure Obama never pursued Bush criminality.

Anonymous said...

LS@8:07--The gay bath house "theory" springs from some very febrile imaginations.

legalschnauzer said...

I, for one, hope the bath house stories are not true. I voted for Obama twice, so I don't fall into the righty category referenced in The Nation article. But I do suspect right-wingers got some kind of dirt on Obama; the wingers tend to specialize in such things. I can't think of any other reason he would call off the hounds on any investigation of Bush criminals and refuse to pardon Don Siegelman. Can you think of an explanation for Obama's peculiar inaction on justice issues?

This all is important because, in many respects, the failure to deal with Bush criminals gave us Donald Trump in the White House. Obama wound up kicking himself in the ass because, if allowed to, Trump will undo all the progress Obama made and leave his legacy pretty much at zero.

Anonymous said...

LS@10:35--Politics--for me--has become an exercise in futility, and 2016 may be the last time I bother to vote. It's all about the money, and everyone who isn't part of the in-crowd might as well realize that and stop wasting time thinking otherwise: