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Siegelman Has His Day In Court

Susan Britt

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By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Former Gov. Don Siegelman was returned to Montgomery on Saturday to attend a bond hearing on Monday before Presiding Judge Clay Land, of Georgia’s Eleventh Circuit Court.

Siegelman asked that the court release him from federal custody pending an appeals hearing on January 15, 2015. He was represented before the court by Greg Craig, a Washington-based lawyer and former White House Counsel under President Barack Obama.

Siegelman entered the courtroom in a dark, red jumpsuit, his hands, feet and waist in silver-shaded shackles. After being uneasily seated, he turned around and was greeted with quiet waves and thumbs ups from those who had come to offer support.

The defense promptly asked that the shackles be removed allowing Siegelman to participate in his own defense, that motion was quickly objected to by the government’s lawyers, saying he didn’t even have a right to be at the proceedings. Following what the government said was standard procedure, the shackles remained.

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The simple question before the court was, should the former governor be granted bail. However, Judge Land also wanted to weigh the likelihood of the appeals court actually conceding to a new trial for Siegelman. His appeal before the Eleventh Circuit is based on prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Leura Canary—who was US Attorney during the Siegelman trial— and also whether Siegelman’s sentencing was appropriately calculated. Siegelman contends that Canary inappropriately continued to direct portions of his original prosecution even after her recusal.

Judge Land asked to question the attorneys before they presented their cases. He first called for John-Alex Romano, a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s criminal division. Land asked Romano if he interpreted the law in a way that financial conflict of interest did not meet the requirements for structural error.

According to Al Haramain Islamic Found., Inc. v. United States Dep’t of the Treasury, 2009, “A structural error is defined as ‘an error that permeate[s] the entire conduct of the trial from beginning to end or affect[s] the framework within which the trial proceeds.’” Structural error results in automatic reversal. Romano maintained that there were at this time no laws that showed financial conflict of interest or could be defined as structural error.

Judge Land asked Romano if a prosecutor accepted “$10,000 to obtain a 3rd party prosecution” did he not see that as a financial conflict of interest. Romano maintained that would not be considered as structural error and that Leura Canary had minimal involvement after she recused herself from the Siegelman case.

Leura Canary recused herself on advice of the Department of Justice after her husband, Billy Canary, was hired as a political strategist for a Siegelman opponent.

Romano argued that since the court did not find conflict of interest regarding Canary in the Scrushy trial, it should not apply in this case.

The prosecution maintained that emails sent by Canary to trial team after recusal had no bearing on their decisions.

The prosecution argued that the Court of Appeals decision re: conflict of interest in the Scrushy case was not a financial conflict and denied reversal.

Craig argued for the defense that the evidence regarding Canary in the Scrushy trial was vastly different than the evidence in the Siegelman trial. He said that the appellate court only focused on the evidence pertaining to Scrushy and not to Siegelman.

Craig cited additional evidence not present in the Scrushy case to include an email from Canary to the trial team suggesting a gag order be invoked to keep Siegelman from addressing the case in the campaign stating that he was “influencing the public.” He said that in a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder, whistleblowers also contented that Canary was briefed daily on progress and assisted in writing the press releases regarding it. Craig said he believed that this evidence “should prompt further discovery.”

Craig said that Canary did not follow federal guidelines for recusal and that she continued to be involved with the case afterward. He stated that items the defense would like to add to discovery are the emails to the prosecution trial team, letters to Department of Justice, and interview with Canary and other parties as well as a letter to the Department of Justice asking for emergency funding of $91,000 to “put this case as a priority of the office.” Craig contends that Canary, in these actions, “violated her pledge to recuse.”

Siegelman is currently serving a sentence of 51 to 63 months. Craig has proposed a “good time” credit reduction to 85 percent. This would reduce the sentence to 43.35 to 53.55 month sentencing guideline range.

As of the date of the appeal, Siegelman will have served 37 months and 6 days. Judge Land surmised, given that the court date is next month, even if Craig’s suggested reduction in sentence is approved, Siegelman would not have reached his minimum sentence. He also said that should it take the appeals court 16 months to reach a verdict, Siegelman would just be reaching his maximum sentence. Since the bond hearing was based upon the contention that if this process continued there would be jeopardy that he could serve more than his recommended sentence, he didn’t see how that was possible. Craig contended that should there be any delays, it was possible.

Craig said that the defense wants the appeals court to decide on only two questions: Was there prosecutorial misconduct? Were the guidelines misapplied?

Judge Land said he will issue his verdict in writing hopefully by the end of the week. Siegelman will remain in Montgomery until the ruling, according to Susan James of the defense team.

After the hearing, Chip Hill, Siegelman family spokesperson and longtime aide, said “We believe the judge heard it, asked the proper questions. We think Greg Craig made good arguments. The government didn’t do a very good job of answering what constituted structural error. From what Mr. Romano said in there, there is no such thing as a conflict of interests.”

“There are more emails than are in the record. When emails were looked at in detail, and I don’t want to characterize this legally, from just a layman’s standpoint, the emails I believe, if given any public airing, will show that this was not Leura Canary managing the administrative duties of this office. This was Leura Canary seeking resources to pursue the case against Don Siegelman after she was supposedly recused,” said Hill.

When asked how the Siegelman team felt about the overall outcome, Hill said, “We have long ago adjusted to the fact that even the best outcome for us is not a perfect outcome so it is going to be bittersweet no matter how this ends.”

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Elections

Secretary of State’s Office begins voter fraud investigation in Wilcox and Perry Counties

Brandon Moseley

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Turnout in Tuesday’s primary runoff was just 12.7 percent across the state. That percentage, however, varied wildly across the state.

Many Democrats did not vote as there were not any statewide Democratic runoffs. Understandably then, the counties with the worst voter participation rates were Democratic dominated Black Belt Counties. Choctaw County was the worst in the state with an incredibly low .59 percent. It was followed by Hale with 1.53 percent. Third worst was Sumter with 1.6 percent followed by Bullock with 2.8 percent.

The Blackbelt had the worst voter turnout; but it also recorded by far the highest turnouts in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The Wilcox County probate judge’s race was apparently so exciting that 44.1 percent of voters turned out despite the heat and no statewide Democratic races.

Wilcox County has 11,058 people. 1,631 of those are under 18. There are only 9,423 voting age persons in the county, but an impressive 9,383 of them are registered voters. That is almost an impossible 99.59 percent voter registration rate. An incredible 4,167 of those voters made time in their day to cast a ballot in Tuesday’s runoff. 4,061 of those voted in the Wilcox County probate judge race, between Democrats Chris Stone and Britney Jones-Alexander. Alexander won the contest. The 44.41 percent voter turnout for the poor Black Belt county was three and a half times the state average.

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Perry County had a 36.35 percent turnout and they were followed by Dallas at 35.43 percent and Greene at 34.08 percent.

The Secretary of State’s office has some suspicions about the success of some of these rural community organizers ability to turn out their votes. Secretary of State John Merrill has launched an investigation into Wilcox and Perry Counties because the number of absentee ballots appears to be unbelievably high.

Sec. Merrill told the Alabama Media Group’s John Sharp that his office is “looking into to prospects of absentee broker operations, in which campaign workers or people with an unknown organization, exchange gifts or cash for absentee ballots.”

Secretary Merrill has said that he wants to make it easy to vote; but hard to cheat.

Below are voter participation rates for all 67 counties:
Wilcox – 44.41%
Perry – 36.35%
Dallas – 35.43%
Greene – 34.08%
Covington – 31.32%
Marion – 27.85%
Fayette – 27.71%
Lamar – 26.19%
Lowndes – 25.47%
Walker – 25.01%
Clay – 24.12%
Coosa – 23.8%
Macon – 21.95%
Crenshaw – 21.09%
Blount – 20.77%
Elmore – 18.92%
Geneva – 18.73%
Marshall – 18.72%
Chilton – 18.08%
Coffee – 18.07%
Autauga – 17.39%
Montgomery – 17.34%
Bibb – 17.02%
Pike – 16.61%
Tallapoosa – 16.42%
Henry – 16.4%
Dale – 15.67%
Baldwin – 15.57%
Houston – 15.03%
Jackson – 14.33%
Limestone – 13.16%
Jefferson – 12.6%
Winston – 12.27%
De Kalb – 11.68%
Chambers – 11.23%
Pickens – 11.18%
Cullman – 11.03%
Shelby – 10.99%
Colbert – 10.79%
Etowah – 10.77%
Franklin – 10.73%
Talladega – 10.3%
Calhoun – 10.22%
St. Clair – 10.08%
Butler – 9.97%
Cleburne – 9.72%
Mobile – 9.49%
Randolph – 9.44%
Lee – 9.41%
Morgan – 9.07%
Barbour – 8.45%
Cherokee – 8.45%
Marengo – 8.01%
Clarke – 7.79%
Madison – 7.66%
Lawrence – 7.43%
Escambia – 7.24%
Lauderdale – 6.88%
Washington – 6.7%
Monroe – 6.46%
Tuscaloosa – 5.94%
Russell – 4.95%
Conecuh – 3.68%
Bullock – 2.8%
Sumter – 1.6%
Hale – 1.53%
Choctaw – 0.59%

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Elections

Walt Maddox, statewide candidates host forum in Gardendale

Brandon Moseley

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox will headline a forum for Democratic candidates at the Gardendale Civic Center on July 30 at 6 p.m. Maddox will be joined by a host of other statewide legislative and local candidates.

Maddox claims that he offers voters a path forward out of the state’s corruption and funding crisis.

“It’s the same crisis we’ve been facing for the last seven years,” says gubernatorial candidate Maddox. “If we don’t do something today, there will be no tomorrow; we need safe infrastructure, access to healthcare and good paying jobs.”

The organizers say they “put people before party” so they can bring about change in Alabama.

“As taxpayers, we have been shortchanged for too long,” says former Gardendale City Councilman Blake Guinn, who is working for the Maddox campaign and is one of the forum’s organizers. “I’m tired of being last in everything but football. I’m looking for candidates who have the energy, intelligence, and vision to move this state forward.”

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Most Alabama politicians are just “rubberstamp” what their national party says, says Jennifer L. Greer, a retired university assistant professor who lives in Gardendale and is also organizing the forum. “I don’t care about Washington. I care about Alabama and getting services for my tax dollars, like Alabama’s First-Class Pre-K in every community.”

Maddox will be joined at the Gardendale forum by:

  • Danner Kline, candidate for U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District.
  • Judge Robert “Bob” Vance, Democratic candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
  • Dr. Will Boyd, Democratic candidate for Alabama Lieutenant Governor.
  • Joseph Siegelman, Democratic candidate for Alabama Attorney General.
  • Heather Milam, Democratic candidate for Alabama Secretary of State.
  • Donna Smalley, Democratic candidate for Alabama Supreme Court, Place 4.
  • Cara McClure, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 1.
  • Kari Powell, Democratic candidate for Public Service Commission, Place 2.
  • Veronica R. Johnson, Democratic candidate Alabama House District 51.
  • Danny Carr, Democratic candidate for Jefferson County District Attorney.

The event is free and open to the public.

Democrats have renewed enthusiasm after Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore for U.S. Senate. Prior to that win, the last Democrat to win a statewide office in Alabama was Lucy Baxley, who was elected to president of the Alabama Public Service Commission in 2008. The last time a Democrat won a gubernatorial election was 1998, when Don Siegelman defeated incumbent Republican Fob James.

The general election will be November 6.

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Shelby announces $25.5 million for statewide airport infrastructure

Brandon Moseley

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Thursday, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, R-Ala., reported that 25 local airports throughout Alabama will benefit from more than $25.5 million in Federal Aviation Administration grants. The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation for various airport improvements to support infrastructure construction, safety advances and equipment acquisition.

“These FAA grants support critical projects that aim to improve safety, security, and efficiency of airports across the state,” said Sen. Shelby. “Airport infrastructure plays a vital role in economic growth and development in Alabama, and I look forward to the progress that will stem from these grants.”

Economic Developer Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Airports affect employment directly and indirectly and serve as a catalyst for economic growth due to their capacity to move people and cargo. The economic benefits can only be reaped, however, when airports are maintained (and funded) properly and utilized by consumers, which is why the FAA grants will be such a blessing for our state.”

“When operated efficiently, smaller, local airports (most of the recipients of the FAA grants), facilitate regional economic development,” said Nicole Jones. “The grants are aimed to do just that – provide maintenance funds so the airports can maximize efficiency and productivity. Thank you to Senator Shelby and to all of the policymakers who worked on behalf of Alabamians to improve aviation in both urban and rural areas.”

The grants range from $7.08 million for the Mobile Downtown Airport to $94,500 for the Thomas C. Russell Field Airport in Alexander City. They are funded through the Airport and Airway Trust Fund and federal appropriations.

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The 25 FAA grants, totaling $25,517,940, will support the following airport projects in Alabama:

  • Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile Airport Authority – $7,080,027 for taxiway reconstruction, runway rehabilitation and installation of a new taxiway lighting system.
  • MacCrenshaw Memorial Airport, City of Greenville – $3,114,820 for runway reconstruction.
  • H.L. Callahan Airport, City of Fairhope – $3,033,757 for construction of an additional taxiway and access taxiways.
  • Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, City of Tuscaloosa – $2,652,600 for apron rehabilitation and a master plan study.
  • Lanett Municipal Airport, City of Lanett – $1,717,830 for construction of a runway and installation of a new runway lighting system.
  • Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, Birmingham Airport Authority – $1,417,500 for erosion repair, safety equipment acquisition, sign installation and taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Headland Municipal Airport, City of Headland – $990,000 for construction of an additional taxiway.
  • Auburn University Regional Airport, Auburn University – $832,500 for taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Enterprise Municipal Airport, City of Enterprise – $653,140 for taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Pryor Field Regional Airport, Counties of Morgan and Limestone – $495,900 for taxiway lighting reconstruction.
  • Cullman Regional-Folsom Field Airport, City and County of Cullman – $450,000 for taxiway reconstruction.
  • Carl Folsom Airport, Elba Airport Authority – $446,998 for construction a 7,200-square-foot hangar building.
  • Anniston Regional Airport, City of Anniston – $446,400 for apron and taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Marion County-Rankin Fite Airport, County of Marion – $261,000 for construction of an additional taxiway to provide access to aircraft hangars.
  • Albertville Regional-Thomas J Brumlik Field Airport, City of Albertville – $253,168 for taxiway reconstruction.
  • Shelby County Airport, County of Shelby – $249,970 for construction of a 14,830-square-foot hangar building.
  • Bibb County Airport, County of Bibb – $242,640 for land acquisition to extend protection zone.
  • Moton Field Municipal Airport, City of Tuskegee – $195,480 for runway and taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Talladega Municipal Airport, City of Talladega – $190,410 for taxiway rehabilitation.
  • Bessemer Airport, City of Bessemer – $150,000 for runway rehabilitation.
  • Prattville-Grouby Field Airport, Prattville Airport Authority – $150,000 for installation of airport drainage improvements.
  • Wetumpka Municipal Airport, City of Wetumpka, – $150,000 for installation of a new navigational aid and a new runway vertical/visual guidance system.
  • Walker County-Bevill Field Airport, Walker County – $135,000 for updates to the airport master plan narrative report and airport layout plan.
  • Ozark-Blackwell Field Airport, City of Ozark – $114,300 for runway rehabilitation and installation of new navigational aids.
  • Thomas C. Russell Field Airport, City of Alexander City – $94,500 for installation of a new navigational aid and a new runway vertical/visual guidance system.

Senator Richard Shelby is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, which unanimously approved the FY2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill last month.

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Siegelman Has His Day In Court

by Susan Britt Read Time: 6 min
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