|Joseph and Don Siegelman|
As the son of former governor Don Siegelman, Joseph has a perspective on the "justice system" that probably is unique in post-modern America. His father was the target of likely the most flagrant political prosecution in U.S. history, and that surely has had a profound impact on Joseph Siegelman. What's it like to watch your dad shipped off to federal prison for six-plus years, for what we've called "a crime that doesn't exist" -- in a case that prosecutors brought almost one full year after the statute of limitations had expired?
It's hard for us to answer that question with certainty, but we suspect Joseph Siegelman would take his role as AG with the utmost seriousness. We suspect he would have plenty of motivation to investigate his father's case -- to ensure that justice delayed is not justice denied. And we suspect he would have a strong interest in deterrence, to make sure that future political thugs think twice before concocting a scheme like the one that sent two innocent men -- Don Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy -- to prison.
Joseph Siegelman surely will make a public statement to this effect: "I'm not seeking this office in order to gain justice for my dad or my family. My goal is to represent the interests of all Alabamians, to help provide us with a justice system that we can trust and respect." But the truth is this: The Don Siegelman case helped turn Alabama into a judicial and legal sewer, and it's unlikely the state ever can move forward unless the rule of law is restored. And Joseph Siegelman might be the only person who is willing, and capable, of turning over the rocks necessary to expose the bad actors in his father's case and hold them accountable.
We suspect the mere thought of Joseph Siegelman in the AG's office is enough to make some prominent sphincters pretty tight in Alabama right now. And we think that is a good thing -- an extremely good thing.
As a journalist, not a lawyer, I don't claim to be an expert on the duties of the attorney general in Alabama -- and I certainly am not an expert on the criminal and civil remedies that might be at Joseph Siegelman's disposal, if he were to be elected. I do know that the Don Siegelman case goes back to at least March 1999, roughly two months after he took office as governor. That means some elements of the case -- if a serious AG were to investigate -- likely would run afoul of various statutes of limitations (SOL). But my research indicates some elements of the case likely would fall inside the statute of limitations -- and that sound you hear is certain sphincters tightening as you read this.
For example, an investigation probably would produce heaping helpings of evidence pointing to civil cases of false arrest and false imprisonment. The SOL for each, in Alabama, is six years. The shackling of Don Siegelman in a Montgomery courtroom, plus his rough treatment in federal prison, likely would support a civil claim for assault and battery, which also carries a six-year SOL. Keep in mind that Siegelman only recently passed the one-year anniversary of his release from prison.
Could the Alabama AG bring a case involving Don Siegelman in federal court? Given the apparent involvement of national GOP figures -- Karl Rove, Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, Bill Pryor, Jeff Sessions, Bill Canary, and more -- the answer almost certainly is yes.
Did key figures act behind the scenes to ensure the U.S. Supreme Court did not overturn the Siegelman convictions and to make sure the Obama administration did not issue a pardon? If so, that means certain individuals in both parties might be experiencing tightness in their whities.
A federal civil-rights claim in Alabama generally is subject to the state's two-year SOL for personal-injury cases. But accrual of the claim is a matter of federal law (see Kelly v. Serna, 11th Cir., 1996), and a false-imprisonment claim does not accrue until the imprisonment ends. That already has been spelled out in a Northern District of Alabama case styled Antonio James v. City of Birmingham (2012). From the James ruling:
As to Count Two, alleging false imprisonment, the “running of the statute of limitations on false imprisonment is subject to a distinctive rule --dictated, perhaps, by the reality that the victim may not be able to sue while he is still imprisoned: ‘Limitations begin to run against an action for false imprisonment when the alleged false imprisonment ends.’” Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. at 389 (quoting 2 H. Wood, Limitation of Actions § 187d(4), p. 878 (rev. 4th ed. 1916). Construing the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff, this court presumes that he remained in the city jail until July 29, 2008. As such, the statute of limitations did not begin to run until July 29, 2008, and plaintiff’s false imprisonment claim is not time-barred.
Don Siegelman was released from federal prison on Feb. 8, 2017, so he has almost one full year to pursue a false-imprisonment claim -- with or without the assistance of the attorney general.
Our research indicates a false-imprisonment claim could provide a serious AG (such as Joseph Siegelman) with grounds to conduct a sweeping civil (or criminal, or both) investigation of the ugliness behind the Siegelman and Scrushy incarcerations.
How is this for possible irony? Siegelman's lawyers have been seeking information since 2006 about the alleged recusal of former U.S. Attorney Leura Canary -- via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- only to be stonewalled for 12 years. In fact, Joseph Siegelman has a FOIA lawsuit pending before U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala, and she has been sitting on it since last April.
The government's stonewalling could blow up in its face, like a stick of dynamite with Wile E. Coyote. A general principle of law is that the SOL is tolled when a party has been denied information to which it clearly is entitled. Also, Haikala's handling of the FOIA case suggests someone is unlawfully pulling her strings, which might give a serious AG (Joseph Siegelman?) grounds to investigate for obstruction of justice or its state equivalent.
Yes, a lot of time has passed since then-AG Bill Pryor launched an investigation of Don Siegelman. And yes, some avenues of investigation might be cut off by SOLs. But we suspect Joseph Siegelman, if he is elected AG, will have plenty of available avenues that are not time barred. On top of that, Don Siegelman mentioned last fall the possibility of pursing a federal RICO case against those responsible for his unlawful arrest and incarceration -- and that likely was long before anyone suspected Joseph Siegelman might be running for state AG.
All of that probably has some powerful and corrupt people connected to the Siegelman case sleeping a bit uneasy these days. We can't help but suppress a smile just at the thought of it.
By the way, Don Siegelman reportedly is recovering well from heart-bypass surgery late last week. Below is an interview he conducted with Cenk Uygur, of The Young Turks: