MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman’s bid for a new trial, in what could be the imprisoned Democrat’s final bid for freedom.
In oral arguments before the court in Atlanta on Tuesday , the U.S. Department of Justice and lawyers for the imprisoned politician will hold the latest skirmish in a decade-old accusation that politics played a role in the investigation that led to Siegelman’s 2006 conviction on bribery and obstruction charges
Siegelman is appealing a judge’s 2012 denial of his request for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence. Siegelman is also asking the court to cut his 6 1/2-year sentence prison sentence.
Defense lawyers argued information provided by a former paralegal suggested U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remained involved – steering office resources to the case, getting updates and sending an email suggesting trial lawyers seek a gag order – despite her announced recusal in 2002.
Her husband has been active in GOP politics and was a political ally of former Republican Gov. Bob Riley, who defeated Siegelman in 2002, and did some consulting work for another unsuccessful 2002 GOP primary candidate.
“U.S. Attorney Leura Canary had a personal, financial stake in Siegelman’s prosecution_disqualifying her from any participation in the case, however limited,” Siegelman lawyers wrote in a filing with the 11th Circuit. Siegelman’s lawyers have asked the court, at a minimum to let them get documents and testimony about Canary’s involvement.
Siegelman’s defense lawyers have raised the issue of Canary’s involvement since it first became public that the governor was under investigation. His then-defense lawyer famously held a 2002 press conference with canaries chirping in a bird cage.
However, prosecutors for nearly as long have contended Canary played no role in the case. Louis Franklin, the acting U.S. attorney in the case, noted in a 2007 press statement that the investigation began before Canary took office and she stepped aside two years before the grand jury was seated.
“None of the materials cited by Siegelman suggests that USA Canary performed substantive work on the case,” DOJ lawyers wrote in a court filing. Prosecutors never asked for the gag order Canary suggested.
A jury convicted Siegelman in 2006 on charges that he sold a seat on a state regulatory board to HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy in exchange for $500,000 in donations to his signature political issue, a 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery. He was also convicted on a separate obstruction of justice charge that he tried to hide money he received from a lobbyist under state investigation by pretending it was an aide’s down payment to buy his motorcycle.
Siegelman could face long odds.
The 11th Circuit in 2013 rejected similar claims raised by Scrushy saying Canary’s limited involvement did not taint his trial. U.S. District Judge Clay Land noted that fact last month when he denied Siegelman’s request to get out of prison on an appeal bond. However, Siegelman’s lawyers have argued the conflict is greater in Siegelman’s case.
Siegelman, 68, has been serving his sentence at a Louisiana prison camp. He has a projected release date of Aug. 8, 2017. The former governor attended his release hearing in Montgomery wearing a red prison jumpsuit and shackled at the hands and feet.
Siegelman is also arguing that U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller wrongly gave him a lengthier sentence for “systematic and pervasive corruption” based on charges on which he was acquitted. Defense lawyers said that Fuller lumped in unrelated accusations when calculating sentence guidelines.
Defense lawyers say Siegelman’s maximum sentence under the guidelines would otherwise have been 63 months’ imprisonment.
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