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On March 27, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama, released pending his appeal of a conviction on bribery and corruption charges. Specifically, he was found guilty in 2006 of accepting $500,000 from HealthSouth founder Richard Scrushy to help retire a debt from an education lottery campaign in exchange for appointing Scrushy to a state hospital licensing board. After he was sentenced to more than seven years in 2007, the trial judge refused to allow Siegelman to report voluntarily to prison in 45 days, as is usual with white-collar defendants, and Siegelman was handcuffed, shackled and led off to prison immediately. The conviction has been the focus of controversy in recent months, primarily over allegations that it was politically motivated. The 11th Circuit ruled that his appeal raises “substantial questions” of law or fact that could result in reversal or an order for a new trial. Siegelman has stated in interviews that he was targeted by powerful Republicans, including former White House adviser Karl Rove, because he was a successful Democrat. Jill Simpson, a lawyer and Republican campaign operative, has stated that she overheard Republican consultant William Canary say that “my girls can take care of Siegelman,” referring to his wife, Leura Canary, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, and Alice Martin, U.S. attorney for the Northern District. Ms. Canary brought the charges that led to the conviction, but recused herself after eight months, when defense lawyers complained about the conflict. Simpson testified on the matter at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee last October. While we are not in a position to comment on the verdict, the case certainly raises some red flags, and the 11th Circuit seems justified in having released Siegelman pending appeal. A segment of 60 Minutes that aired in February reported that the government’s chief witness cooperated to get a lighter sentence on unrelated charges, and that he needed to be coached repeatedly by prosecutors “to get his story straight.” Further, Siegelman reappointed Scrushy to a board on which he had already served, and there was no evidence that he benefitted personally. A 2004 indictment brought against Siegelman was thrown out by the judge after the U.S. government’s opening argument because the evidence was so thin. Fifty-two former state attorneys general of both parties have signed a petition calling for congressional investigation into this case. The 11th Circuit should carefully examine the law and facts in considering the appeal, and Congress should continue to delve into the allegations of political machinations as part of its broader inquiry stemming from the U.S. attorney scandal.

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