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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.

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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.

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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Does Volkert chairman have millions of reasons to support Canary at BCA?

Bill Britt

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Perry Hand, the chairman of Mobile-based Volkert Inc., is standing behind the Business Council of Alabama’s besieged CEO Billy Canary, while his company has seen a dramatic rise in state business that roughly coincides with his tenure on the association’s board.

Could it be that Hand’s dogged support of Canary is tied to the engineering firm’s growing success in attracting tens of millions in taxpayer-funded building projects — with totals approaching $100 million since the Republican takeover in 2010?

A close look at Volkert’s state contracts finds, in just the last few years, payments have exponentially grown from $5 million in annual contracts to nearly $20 million in fiscal year 2017, with the lion’s share coming since Hand took control of BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, which doles out campaign contributions.

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Volkert is on track to break over $22 million for fiscal year 2018, a quick climb since a Volkert campaign contribution in 2013 made its way into Storming the State House PAC, controlled by then-Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, who was later convicted on felony ethics violations.

Hand almost single-handedly is working to save Canary after seven of the state’s most prestigious corporations called for his ouster on April 10 of this year. Not only is Hand defying some of BCA’s largest contributors, he is thumbing his nose at Alabama’s senior U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, who serves as the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

Billy Canary out at BCA, sort of 

Last week, Alabama Political Reporter published the inner workings of a BCA executive board meeting at which seven of the state’s largest business entities insisted that Canary be removed as head of the business group. After that meeting, the executive board voted to call for Canary to step down.

However, Hand is pushing to keep Canary on until the fall.

Opinion | The black hand behind Perry Hand

Hand refused to answer APR‘s comment about the meeting before we published. Instead, he sought out Todd Stacy, who runs the one-man operation aldailynews.com to call our report suspect.  Stacy, former communications director for Hubbard, is considered a friendly outlet for BCA-related news.

In 2016, Hand served as second vice chairman on BCA’s board. In 2017, he was elected first vice chair and head of BCA’s campaign funding group, Progress PAC, rising to chairman in 2018.

Upon accepting the position as BCA’s chair, Hand said, “We’ll have an aggressive agenda for 2018, which will include promoting infrastructure development, BCA membership, candidate selection and business support for education excellence to create an outstanding workforce for Alabama business.”

During his presentation, Hand didn’t reveal that “an aggressive agenda … promoting infrastructure development” could benefit Volkert and him personally as its state contracts are coming from transportation and the Port Authority.

With over $96 million since the Republican takeover in 2010, Hand’s ties to major Republicans, like former Gov. Bob Riley, have feathered Volkert’s nest. Not only does it seem Volkert’s fortunes are perhaps linked to BCA, the company is also passing out campaign contribution to key politicos.

In just the 2018 election cycle, Volkert has given $50,000.00 to Gov. Kay Ivey’s election, with tens of thousand spread out to others who can give them a leg up or a pass, including Attorney General Steve Marshall, an appointee of disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley.

Republican lawmakers have sought help, convincing Hand to abandon his support of Canary, and the seven corporations that have called for Canary are poised to take action should Hand persist.

These companies, which include AT&T, Alabama Power and Blue Cross Blue Shield to name a few, are growing tired of waiting according to inside sources. And within BCA, not only the rank-in-file but past leaders are ready to see Hand driven out, as well. One former BCA board member said, “I don’t know if Hand is a stubborn #@* or just stupid. Either way, he’s betting on the wrong horse.”

Several lawmakers, who asked not to be identified, said if Hand continues his quixotic mission, Volkert might face a less than hospitable Legislature.

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Elections

State Sen. Vivian Figures endorses Walt Maddox for governor

Brandon Moseley

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Sen. Vivian Figures speaks at a committee meeting in 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)

The Walt Maddox campaign for Governor continues to draw endorsements from influential Democrats with the latest being Mobile State Sen. Vivian Figures.

“I am honored and proud to endorse Mayor Walt Maddox to be our next governor,” said Sen. Figures. “I know he is ready to serve all of the people of AL, because he’s not filled with empty rhetoric, but has a plan that will move AL to the next level.”

Figures is a native of Mobile and the widow of the late Senator Michael A. Figures.

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Figures is an alumna of Williamson High School and the University of New Haven in Connecticut. She attended Jones School of Law in Montgomery. Figures is a businesswoman and serves as President/CEO of the Figures Legacy Education Foundation.

Figures helped to organize and implement the Mobile County Foster Grandparents Program; the Homeless Coalition of Mobile; the Big Brothers, Big Sisters Program of Metropolitan Mobile; the Helping Schools Tag License Plate Campaign; and the Figures Legacy Education Foundation. She either serves or has served on many civic and charitable boards such as Habitat for Humanity, Prichard Boys and Girls Clubs, the Salvation Army, the Mobile Area Education Foundation and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

She has been recognized for dedicated community and legislative service by numerous organizations, agencies and professional groups. Senator Figures was chosen as a recipient of the Elected Women of Excellence by the National Foundation for Women Legislators.

Figures was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2012. In 1993, Ms. Figures was elected to a four-year term on the Mobile City Council, attaining the status of the “only council member in Mobile’s history to hold a perfect attendance record.”

Due to the untimely death of her husband, Michael Figures, she was later elected in the 1997 special general election to the Alabama State Senate to serve the remainder of his term. The victory made her the first African-American woman to be elected to the Senate from Mobile County and the second one in the state of Alabama.

She was re-elected in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014.

In 2008, she became the first African-American woman to become the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, ultimately losing to incumbent Jeff Sessions in the general election. Senator Figures was confirmed by the Senate in the 2012 Regular Session to serve on the Jacksonville State University Board of Trustees, making her the first African-American woman to serve on the Board. Senator Figures was elected by her Democratic Senate colleagues to serve as Minority Leader for 2013 and 2014 making her the first woman to serve in a top leadership position in the history of the Alabama State Legislature.

Senator Figures is one of nine siblings and is the mother of three sons, a stepson, and a granddaughter.

Walter “Walt” Maddox is the Mayor of Tuscaloosa.

The major party primaries are on June 5, 2018.

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Woodfin will Interview three candidates for Birmingham police chief

Brandon Moseley

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Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin will interview three candidates for the vacant Birmingham police chief position this week.

Malik Aziz is currently a division commander with the Dallas Police Department. He has more than 28 years of law enforcement experience.

Henry Irby III is currently a deputy chief with the Birmingham Police Department. He has more than 32 years of law enforcement experience.

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Patrick D. Smith is currently a police commander with the Los Angeles Police Department. He has more than 27 years of law enforcement experience.

The City received more than 50 applications from candidates, both locally and nationally. That was narrowed down to 11 and then the finalists were invited to take part in an assessment process on March 19. An assessment center was created for participants to handle a series of realistic leadership situations. Once those candidates completed the assessment process, a detailed review of their performance was conducted.

Mayor Woodfin will interview each finalist between April 23 and 25.

The Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area is by far the largest metro area in the state; but the largest city in that MSA, Birmingham, has struggled with crime issues for decades. Birmingham is the fifth most violent cities in America, behind only Detroit, St. Louis, Oakland, and Memphis with 1,483 violent crimes per 100,000 residents according to a recent Forbes article.

One hundred sixteen homicides were reported in Birmingham in 2017, though seven of those were ruled to be self-defense by prosecutors and one by a judge. Sixty-one of those were in the precinct, which includes about 80,000 residents. One hundred one were shootings.

Birmingham Police Chief A. C. Roper submitted his letter of resignation in November after ten years of service as the City’s police chief. There had been some improvement with murders dropping into the 60s, setting a 50-year low in 2014, dropping to just 62, but the killing rates resumed with 100 killed in 2015 and 109 in 2016, The city’s record high was 141 in 1992.

Interim Police Chief Orlando Wilson resigned after the mother of his two children filed a complaint alleging that Wilson sexually abused a child under the age of 12. Wilson had already retired from the police and had only become active again to fill the interim chief role.

Birmingham has been in population decline since peaking in 1960 at 340,087 to just 212,157 today. 29.4 percent of the city’s residents live below the federal poverty line. The median household income is just $32,404 (the national average is $55,322.

(Forbes, the U.S. Census Bureau, the Trussville Tribune, and BhamWiki were referenced in the writing of this report.)

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Siegelman Has His Day In Court

by Susan Britt Read Time: 6 min
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