Free Don Siegelman!
photo and above text by OPOL
Today I spent several hours reading about a travesty of justice. Sometimes travesties of justice aren't based in significant part on race or national origin or poverty or bad lawyering. No. Sometimes, powerful and good people, people who are well defended but have even more powerful and devious enemies, get railroaded to prison. And so it is that Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama finds himself in a federal prison camp in Louisiana in a case redolent of chicanery and political hanky panky and judicial irregularity. A case, in my opinion, that has Karl Rove's despicable fingerprints all over it and is a farce and mockery of justice that cannot be permitted to stand.
Put in the vernacular, the case really reeks. But nevertheless, Don Siegelman, a good and progressive man, because of a confluence of being a democrat in the Republican state of Alabama, a hostile, politically motivated US Attorney, an even more hostile district court judge in Montgomery, the death of the court reporter who transcribed his trial, a corrupt, politically motivated prosecution, jury misconduct, and dilly dallying by the ever cautious 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, remains in jail almost 9 months since he was initially and surprisingly remanded without bail upon his conviction of 2 of 34 counts in an politically induced indictment. A previous prosecution of him was summarily dismissed as meritless; the current case is the second attempt by his political enemies to convict him to remove him from office.
Have you heard about this case? I did, during initial reportage about the US Attorney scandal, which seems to have faded into oblivion and forgetfulness, but I didn't penetrate how thoroughly this case stinks until today, thanks to a must read essay by my friend, OPOL. If you can, please read this essay in its entirety. If you can't, please instead watch this video. It will bring you up to speed in fifteen minutes. It will stun, shock and astonish you, as it did 52 state attorneys general, all of whom believe the conviction is garbage.
The spectacle of Siegelman, whom I briefly met about 40 years ago in Huntsville, Alabama, being in federal prison on this bogus case is nothing short of overwhelming. And the obtuseness, if not hostility with which the district judge and the Eleventh Circuit have met his requests for bail pending appeal sets some kind of high water mark for politically motivated vindictiveness. This is the kind of judicial hostility I encountered all too often during the civil rights era. It is utterly shocking to see that kind of callousness resurrected for Siegelman. All too ironical and upsetting is that the conviction was in the Middle District of Alabama, a court formerly presided over by Hon. Frank M. Johnson, one of America's great jurists of the mid-twentieth century. The political and intentional degradation of this particular, historically important district court, a district court that made courageous rulings in favor of civil rights throughout the sixties and seventies, is exemplified by Siegelman's conviction, his immediate, summary remand to prison, and his present inability to be bailed pending appeal. The rulings in Siegelman's case, especially those since his conviction, are simply disgraceful.
I have no doubt that there are reversible errors in Siegelman's case. These include everything from the failure to prove that a crime was ever committed (there was no quid pro quo in connection with the alleged bribery count) to juror misconduct (jurors, despite the court's instructions, emailed each other during the trial and deliberations to plot for a conviction) to the failure of the prosecution to provide the notes written by their star witness (a violation of 18 USC 3500). Doubtless there are other, equally important problems. And keeping Siegelman locked up-- he is no risk of flight-- because of the alleged lack of merit of his appeal is the kind of preposterous, willful vindictiveness that should never be tolerated. Simply put, his appeal has merit sufficient for him to be released. I have seen others who committed far worse crimes and had far weaker merits on appeal released for the duration of their appeals. Siegelman is getting "special treatment" because of who he is and his party affiliation.
What can you do about all of this?
First, watch the video and read OPOL's essay.
Second, visit Don's web site for updates, analysis, documents, links to press coverage, and more, very persuasive video produced by independent news agencies. Take a long, hard look at this ridiculous conviction.
Third, make a small Pay Pal donation to Don's defense. If enough people give just small amounts ($10, $20, $50), Don's defense will not find itself working for free.
Fourth, please send this essay or OPOL's essay to others. It's important that this travesty not be swept under the rug.
And fifth, go to Don's web site, which has links, so that you can contact the appropriate Congresspersons and urge them not only to deal with Don's plight but also to stop delaying and to pursue the contempt citations in the US Attorney scandals to which this case is so directly connected.
Travesties like this conviction and the horrendous treatment Don has received since his conviction need to be exposed. They simply cannot be tolerated, not if we value the rule of law and the necessity for it to be administrated fairly and impartially. Not if we believe in a fair and independent judiciary. Not if we believe we live in a democracy.