Wednesday, July 25, 2018

U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala dismisses FOIA case on Siegelman prosecution, as DOJ is allowed to produce documents so heavily redacted as to be worthless

Joseph and Don Siegelman
A lawsuit seeking information from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman has been dismissed. As often is the case with federal-court matters in Alabama, the final ruling is dubious -- in large part, because Judge Madeline Haikala received documents from the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) last spring and sat on the case for roughly 10 months before making a final ruling.

Does Haikala's ruling make sense under the law.? We don't have access to the entire court file, so it's hard to make a determination on that question. But an online summary of the case docket raises troubling questions and suggests powerful conservative forces -- both in Alabama and Washington, D.C. -- are trying to keep the lid on what really happened in a case that has become known as the most notorious political prosecution in American history.

Here is the most disturbing part: OPR turned over documents that "were so heavily redacted they were worthless," a source close to the case says -- and Haikala let the government get away with that. Haikala,an Obama appointee and former attorney with Birmingham's Lightfoot Franklin firm, is the same judge who twisted the facts and law into a pretzel in order to let Madison police officer Eric Parker off on criminal charges after he had body slammed Sureshbhai Patel (a grandfather from India), causing spinal injuries. We reported a four-part series about the myriad ways Haikala butchered the law in the Patel case.

Is there any reason to think Haikala got it right in the Siegelman matter? I don't see any.

The case started when Birmingham attorney Joseph Siegelman (Don's son and currently a candidate for Alabama attorney general) filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking documents about the prosecution that caused his father to spend more than six years in federal prison. Of particular interest were documents related to the supposed recusal of Leura Canary, who was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama on the Siegelman case -- even though her husband, Bill Canary, had worked for the campaign of Siegelman's chief opponent, Bob Riley.

Madeline Haikala
Joseph Siegelman's lawsuit is the latest in an effort that has gone on for more than a decade, struggling to unlock the truth behind his father's case and meeting OPR stonewall tactics at every turn. This is from a Legal Schnauzer post of April 17, 2017:

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 administrations.

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.

At the time those words were written, OPR had just turned over the requested documents for Haikala's in camera review. We now know those documents were so redacted, with information blacked out at every turn, that they provided almost no information about Canary's "recusal" or anything else related to the Don Siegelman prosecution. To justify the redactions, OPR apparently claimed the material was exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Haikala -- surprise, surprise -- sided with OPR, in a ruling that suggests we might as well not have a FOIA law if the government can get away with producing blacked-out documents that reveal nothing.

Here are the final four entries from Joseph Siegelman's FOIA case:

2017-04-10 -- 25 -- NOTICE by Office of Professional Responsibility, United States Department of Justice (Notice of Submission of Ex Parte, In Camera Material) (Bennett, Michelle) (Entered: 04/10/2017)

2018-02-09 -- 26 -- ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE - The Court ORDERS OPR to SHOW CAUSE by February 23, 2018 why the portions of the report identified above are subject to the FOIA exemptions claimed and cannot be segregated and produced, or to produce those portions of the report to the plaintiff. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 2/9/2018. (KEK) (Entered: 02/09/2018)

2018-02-23 -- 27 -- RESPONSE to re 26 Show Cause Order filed by Office of Professional Responsibility, United States Department of Justice. (Bennett, Michelle) (Entered: 02/23/2018)

2018-02-28 -- 28 -- FINAL ORDER - On February 23, 2018, OPR gave notice that it produced the identified non-exempt portions of its report to Mr. Siegelman. (Doc. 27). Because OPR produced the portions that are not protected from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(C), Mr. Siegelman's request for injunctive relief is now moot. Accordingly, this action is DISMISSED AS MOOT. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 2/28/2018. (KEK) (Entered: 02/28/2018)

Notice that OPR turned over the requested (and heavily redacted) documents for Haikala's review on April 10, 2017, and the case went dormant until February 2018. Then, in a span of 19 days, Haikala issued three orders that disposed of the case -- with no sign she even considered any Siegelman arguments to OPR's claims of exemption -- with a final order dated February 28, 2018.

Does that smell funny to you -- especially when you consider Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions played a major role in launching the Siegelman investigation while serving as U.S. senator from Alabama? It sure smells funny to me, given that Sessions and his allies -- including some "Democrats" -- likely had major influence on Haikala, and her outlook for career advancement.

No comments: