A federal appeals court in Atlanta hears on Jan. 13 the latest appeal of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, one of the nation’s leading political prisoners.
His imprisonment for 1999 actions not considered a crime by other political figures has been compounded by more than a month of harsh confinement over the holidays preventing family visits and communications with his lawyers in advance of his hearing, aside from one phone call.
“Don has spent more than a month in solitary confinement, 24 hours a day for more than 36 days,” wrote his friend Anita Darden, who has maintained the Don Siegelman website for years. “What a shock and disappointment this must be to a man so hopeful for release a month earlier. How did this happen?” she continued in a column posted Jan. 12 on a supporters’ website.
The story is familiar to those following the case via thousands of articles and broadcasts through the years: Alabama’s leading Democrat was convicted of corruption charges in 2006 for 1999 actions — appointing a donor to a state board — that are not normally considered a crime.
In a case brought by the Bush administration and vigorously endorsed by the Obama Justice Department despite evidence of massive irregularities, Siegelman’s appeal focuses on two arguments:
He asserts that Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, in office from 2001 to 2011 and shown in a file photo, failed to recuse herself from decision-making despite a conflict of interest because her husband, William Canary, was campaign manager for a Siegelman rival. Leura Canary claimed she recused but the government has denied since 2006 the defense requests for evidence on the issue.
As a second ground for appeal, Siegelman says that his trial judge, then-Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, improperly imposed a sentence for charges for which Siegelman had won jury acquittal.
The Anniston Star in Alabama editorialized last week regarding Siegelman’s 78-month sentence for actions not normally considered criminal. The newspaper said the tough sentence contrasts sharply with the 24-month sentence a Virginia federal judge imposed this month on Republican former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who with his wife accepted some $170,000 in gifts from a lobbyist.