U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Former Ala. Gov. Siegelman Denied New Trial in Bribery Appeal

Don Siegelman, the former Governor of Alabama, lost his motion for a new trial last week. Siegelman was convicted of bribery, mail fraud and obstruction of justice in 2006, following an investigation that many Democrats argued was politically motivated, but which Republicans claimed revealed extensive corruption.

After a series of appeals, Siegelman moved for a new trial, based on allegations that U.S. Attorney Leura Canary participated in his prosecution after she had disqualified herself due to conflicts of interest. The Eleventh Circuit rejected his claims, finding that Canary's involvement did not deprive him of his right to a disinterested prosecutor.

Corruption and Bribery or Just Regular Politics?

Siegelman's arrest and prosecution stemmed from his dealings with powerful Alabama businessman Richard Scrushy. According to prosecutors, Siegelman agreed to appoint Scrushy to a state regulatory board in exchange for contributions of $500,000 to the Governor's lottery efforts. According to Siegelman, the last Democratic governor of Alabama, his prosecution was politically motivated by Republican opponents, including Karl Rove, who sought to frame simple political wheeling and dealing as bribery.

In his appeal, Siegelman focused on the involvement of Leura Canary. Canary was married to a Republican consultant for one of Siegelman's opponents and was appointed to her position by George W. Bush. Though Canary voluntarily disqualified herself from Siegelman's prosecution before the indictment, the ex-Governor claims that she continued to communicate with and influence prosecutors afterwards.

No Wrongful Interference in Prosecution

As the district court noted, Siegelman and Scrushy both presented the same request for a new trial based on Canary's involvement. As the district court noted, Siegelman's motion for a new trial "by and large copied the one filed by Scrushy." The Eleventh Circuit had already ruled that Canary's limited involvement did not deprive Scrushy of a disinterested prosecutor.

That decision applies to Siegelman as well, the Eleventh said, under the law-of-the-case doctrine. That doctrine requires that a court's decision on a rule of law must be applied to the same issues in the same case. The "same case," in the Eleventh Circuit, includes a co-defendants' closely related appeal. The fact that Canary had "kept up with" the case and offered litigation strategy in three emails did not deny Scrushy, or Siegleman by proxy, a disinterested prosecution. Indeed the Eleventh found no evidence that Canary's emails had any impact on the prosecution.

It's unclear whether Siegelman will continue to fight his conviction and sentencing. If he does, he might be freed before a court can rule on any future motions -- the former governor is set to be released in 2017.

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