Saturday, May 31, 2008

Strong Backing for Ex-Governor’s Appeal


Fifty-four former state attorneys general filed a brief Friday supporting the appeal of former Gov. Don Siegelman of Alabama, convicted two years ago on bribery and corruption charges in a prosecution depicted by his supporters as politically motivated.

Robert Abrams, a former New York attorney general and an author of the brief, said the document was unprecedented in bringing together a large number of former top state judicial officers, mostly Democrats but also some Republicans. Mr. Abrams said it reflected “strong feelings” that an injustice had been done to Mr. Siegelman, a Democrat who was freed on bond from a federal prison in March after serving nine months.

Last year, 44 of the former attorneys general petitioned Congress to look into the Siegelman case, which a House committee is now doing.

A year ago, Mr. Siegelman was sentenced to serve more than seven years in prison for appointing a wealthy businessman to a state health board in exchange for a $500,000 contribution to a campaign for a state lottery. Mr. Siegelman had intended the lottery money to go the state’s schools.

The former governor and his supporters have contended that the money was nothing more than a routine political contribution and that there was no agreement that the businessman, Richard M. Scrushy, would be re-appointed to a board on which he had previously served.

The new brief, filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, largely restates those arguments.

“Completely absent from the trial record is any evidence that Governor Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy entered into an explicit agreement whereby Mr. Scrushy’s appointment to the Con board was conditioned upon Mr. Scrushy’s making the political contributions in question,” the brief says.

The government has insisted there was ample evidence of such an agreement, pointing to, among other things, trial testimony on a casual exchange between Mr. Siegelman and an aide on the possibility of the appointment.

Mr. Siegelman has pointed to the possible involvement of Karl Rove, the former White House political director, in his prosecution, citing the testimony of a former Republican political operative. The House Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Mr. Rove, who has balked at giving sworn testimony on the matter.

Meanwhile, Mr. Siegelman, freed after the appeals court cited “substantial questions” in the case, is seeking to have his conviction thrown out.

“This number is extraordinary,” said Mr. Abrams, a Democrat who once headed a national association of state attorneys general. “It reflects strong feelings that there should not be inappropriate inhibitions on people’s rights to participate in the political process. The country’s got to guard against politically inspired prosecutions.”

Jeffrey A. Modisett, a former Indiana attorney general and a Democrat, said of the prosecution: “I think it’s deeply, deeply troubling, and I’m very saddened to say it’s indicative of the way too many investigations and prosecutions have taken place under this administration.”

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