Justice Off the Tracks in Alabama

By Glynn Wilson

Remember the name Jill Simpson. The former longtime Republican lawyer from North Alabama is now a major whistleblower against the GOP. Ms. Simpson was to give a sworn statement Sept. 14 as the US House Judiciary Committee looks into the political corruption of the Bush Justice Department.

Her testimony is expected to reveal that if there is any state in the Union where the Bush White House and Karl Rove have manipulated the justice system of America for political purposes, it is the state of Alabama.

The relentless political prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, by Bush-appointed Republican prosecutors and a Republican judge, is the most compelling case now before Congress and the courts, legal experts say.

"So far the evidence coming out of the US attorneys scandal points to political motivation in prosecutions or the suppression of prosecutions in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and California, but the strongest case so far, and the one where the direct involvement of Karl Rove is most apparent, is in Alabama, a state where Rove's roots and political connections run very deep," New York lawyer Scott Horton said in an interview. He has followed the case closely and writes a column at Harpers.org called "No Comment."

While Siegelman claimed for years that the federal prosecution of him was "political," few listened until May of this year.

A month before his sentencing on bribery charges, a Republican lawyer named Dana Jill Simpson, from Rainsville, in the northeast corner of Alabama, wrote and signed a sworn affidavit that claimed the case had been directed from the White House and the governor's mansion from the outset.

Simpson had volunteered to work for many Republican candidates over the years, including Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Ten-Commandments Judge Roy Moore. She even got involved with Karl Rove's good friend, William "Bill" Canary, who now runs the conservative Business Council of Alabama, through the governor's son Rob Riley. She has known Riley since running against him for Student Government Association president at the University of Alabama in 1987. While Riley has publicly denied being closely associated with Ms. Simpson, she has boxes full of records to prove they worked side-by-side on legal cases over the years.

Ms. Simpson split with the Rileys after the 2006 election, however, when they asked her to perform what she said was "dirty, untrue" research she considered to be unethical and illegal to frame a powerful Democrat in the Alabama Legislature.

As the case against Siegelman and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy proceeded apace in Montgomery, alleging that Scrushy's donation of $500,000 to pay off the debt on a state lottery campaign in effect was a bribe in exchange for a seat on a hospital licensing board, Ms. Simpson tried to communicate what she saw as a developing injustice to one of Siegelman's lawyers. Eventually she had more luck talking to Scrushy's lawyers, who saw the connections and filed a brief with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta alleging a conflict of interest on the part of Chief US District Judge Mark E. Fuller.

A three-judge appeals court panel has agreed to consider that issue on appeal, but it could be months before the panel issues a ruling in the case.

Fuller has been a Republican activist since his days as a member of a "machine" fraternity at the University of Alabama in the 1980s, including a stint on the Republican Executive Committee. He worked against Siegelman's election in past races. He also worked for Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., in Washington before being given a lifetime appointment as the chief federal judge in Montgomery by President Bush in 2002 -- just in time to take the Siegelman case.

Just days before the president commuted the 2-1/2 year prison sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice in the CIA leak case, Fuller on June 28 sentenced Siegelman to seven years and four months in federal prison. He sentenced Scrushy to six years and 10 months, and then ordered the US Marshals Service to handcuff and shackle both defendants and take them to jail immediately, without so much as a goodbye to their families waiting in the courtroom or a chance to get their affairs in order under an appeal bond.

According to legal experts, that is unprecedented in white-collar cases. Now there are many in Washington and around the country who are starting to ask the obvious question: Was the Siegelman-Scrushy prosecution political from the outset?

Ms. Simpson's affidavit tells of a conference call she was involved in during a recount battle just after the 2002 election. She has the phone records to prove the phone call took place. Involved in the call were Bill Canary, a senior GOP political operative and adviser to Gov. Riley, along with the governor's son Rob and a former member of the Alabama Supreme Court who had worked for Riley's election in 2002 but ended up representing Scrushy in the Montgomery trial in 2006.

Ms. Simpson says Canary said "not to worry about Don Siegelman" because "his girls" would "take care of him." Canary made it clear "his girls" was a reference to his wife, Leura Canary, the US attorney who first brought the case against Siegelman in the Middle District of Alabama, and Alice Martin, the US attorney for the Northern District of the state whose case against Siegelman was later thrown out by another federal judge. Both "girls" were recent Bush appointees and past members of the Federalist Society, a not-so-secret conservative legal fraternity, sources say.

During the conference call, the governor's son, Rob, asked if he was sure "these girls" could "take care of" Siegelman, to get him out of the way of any future political race. Canary told him "not to worry" and that he had already worked it out with Karl Rove who had spoken to the Justice Department, which he said was already "pursuing" an investigation of Siegelman.

Since the story on the Simpson affidavit was first reported by the New York Times and Time magazine on June 1, and a detailed on-the-record story was published in the Locust Fork Journal, Ms. Simpson has tried to avoid more publicity -- even though she's been attacked in several Alabama newspaper stories by others involved in the conference call.

But she has agreed to continue talking to the House Judiciary Committee because of her fear that an injustice has been done in the Siegelman, Scrushy case.

"The reason I did what I did is because I believe everybody has a Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial," she said. "I did not believe Mr. Siegelman or Mr. Scrushy got a fair trial."

The reason she did not believe that was because of the statements she heard in the telephone conversation, in part, but also because of her conversations with Rob Riley in 2005, when he told her "we've found another judge" to take on the Siegelman case. And because of the conversations about Fuller all the way back to 2001 and 2002 when they were discussing various federal contracts -- as well as the research she did on her own later.

Ms. Simpson sometimes represents "storm gypsies" who go in and do clean up work after ice storms, hurricanes and the like. In that capacity as a lawyer, she has to deal with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies. She had done legal work with Riley over the years, so they often compared notes on others involved in similar work from Alabama, sometimes in the ritzy nightclubs of Washington, D.C.

Fuller was also involved as a majority owner in companies that bid on defense contracts, before he became a judge. But records unearthed by Ms. Simpson show he was still a majority shareholder of a company that did business with the FBI -- while the Siegelman-Scrushy trial was underway. In fact, during the trial one of the companies in which he is a majority shareholder, Doss Aviation, received a $178-million contract from the federal government to train Saudi and Iranian pilots. Also, Fuller fails to report his majority ownership of a related company, Aureus International, in his mandatory judicial financial disclosure forms, which is an apparent violation of the US judicial code of conduct.

If you were investigated by the FBI and put on trial in federal court, she asks, would you feel comfortable knowing the judge owned a business that was reliant on the FBI and beholden to the federal government for contracts worth upwards of $258 million? As attorney general over the Department of Justice and the FBI, Gonzales was responsible for the paychecks for prosecutors and FBI agents. He also had to sign off on all large federal contracts going through the department.

Ms. Simpson's research has now dragged the facts on that issue into the light of day. If what Ms. Simpson says is true -- and so far no one has successfully issued a sworn statement disputing any of the facts in her affidavit, or any of her research on the judge or the governor's son -- then there can be little doubt that the case deserves an investigation on Capitol Hill, according to legal experts.

Birmingham attorney Doug Jones, who represented Siegelman early on in the case against him in Birmingham, said the political system is what it is in America, and political appointees get their jobs by sucking up to the powerful. But he thinks Rove and Gonzales have damaged the credibility of the government by what they've done.

"I'm no fan of Rove," he said. "I think he is a disgusting political animal. I don't like the way he has interfered and I do think his fingerprints are on a lot of the prosecutions that have gone on around the country. No question about that. They ought to investigate that, because it's wrong."

He said this attorney general and the Bush Department of Justice "has so damaged the credibility of the Justice Department that Gonzales (had) to go. Because once you become attorney general you are supposed to leave the partisan politics at the door. It does not appear that this Justice Department has done that, whether it's Siegelman or some of the other cases around the country."

If anyone has any doubt, reasonable or otherwise, about Karl Rove's success in manipulating justice in Alabama, one need only look at all the evidence piling up since Atlantic Monthly wrote a detailed account about Rove's political work in Alabama in November 2004.

Rove's early political experience, as well as George W. Bush's, goes all the way back to that campaign in 1972 when Bush went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard and snuck over to Alabama to work for Republican Red Blount in a US Senate race against Sen. John Sparkman, a Democrat. Rove was elected president of the College Republicans that year and made a swing across the South with infamous Republican political strategist Lee Atwater.

Rove's early years as a political consultant, before Bush became governor of Texas and then president, can be traced mostly to races in Texas and Alabama. Most significantly, Rove showed up in Montgomery in 1994 at the behest of the conservative Business Council of Alabama to engineer Republican victories for the state Supreme Court, which had been a Democratic Party stronghold for a century.

One man, Perry Hooper, was said to constitute the entire Republican wing of the state judiciary at that time. Rove took Hooper and a winning formula devised in Texas and demonized the Democrats as pawns of "wealthy trial lawyers" and raised anti-Democrat sentiment with tales of "outrageous jury verdicts," what they called "jackpot justice."

The strategy worked, although that first race ended up so close, the only way Rove won it in the end came through a bull-doggedly aggressive legal assault during a contentious recount -- much like the recount fights later on in Bush v. Gore in 2000 and Siegelman v. Riley in 2002. Since that race, Republicans have maintained a large majority on the Alabama Supreme Court, which played a role in certifying that questionable election in 2002.

While Rove was working full time at the White House in 2001 and 2002, Rove, Canary and others, including Dan Gans -- who had served as Riley's chief of staff both in Montgomery and Washington and went on to work with the Alexander Strategy Group, which has been repeatedly implicated in the Abramoff corrupt lobbying scandal -- teamed up with three-term Congressman Bob Riley and engineered his election victory over Siegelman in 2002.

They won that race by the slimmest of margins in Alabama political history, 3,120 votes. There is evidence that 6,334 were switched late at night in the Baldwin County Courthouse in South Alabama, where a disputed ballot count in Bay Minette received national publicity at the time.

That election was certified by then-state attorney general William "Bill" Pryor (R), who was elected to that post in 1998 thanks to the help of his campaign manager -- Karl Rove. Pryor now sits as a judge on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals thanks to an interim appointment by President Bush. Pryor used his position as Alabama attorney general to initiate a state criminal investigation of Siegelman not long after Siegelman's inauguration as Alabama's "first New South governor" in 1999.

But after concluding there was insufficient grounds under state law to bring a case against Siegelman, he lobbied Rove and the Bush Justice Department to bring a case.

Now, there are indications the Senate and House judiciary committees may take a hard look at this case.

Rep. Artur Davis, a rising black star in the Democratic Party from Alabama and a member of the House Judiciary Committee, has formally asked for the Siegelman case to be included in the ongoing committee investigation into selective prosecutions around the country. Most of the cases are related to the firing of at least eight federal prosecutors by the Gonzales Justice Department, although the committee chair has also announced plans to look into the commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence by President Bush.

"Prior to his service in the White House, Rove had an extensive history of involvement in Alabama elections, and maintains contact with a number of Republican contributors and operatives in my state," Davis writes.

In addition to evidence that prosecutors were fired for failing to bring cases that would bolster the Republican cause, the press has reported on several cases where "the government's cases against Democratic officeholders were strained at best," Davis says. "A claim of selective prosecution is not implausible in this Justice Department. It would shatter the system if a Justice Department built a culture in which prosecutors' career advancement depends on their willingness to press exotic legal theories that might advance the electoral interests of the Republican Party."

Davis includes only some of the evidence in his letter, but "most explosively," he writes, "an attorney who worked in the 2002 campaign against Siegelman has sworn an affidavit claiming that she participated in a November 2002 conference call in which an influential Republican claimed that Karl Rove had given assurances that Siegelman would be indicted."

That attorney was Jill Simpson, and she now has her own date with destiny in Washington on Sept. 14.

Glynn Wilson is editor and publisher of the Locust Fork News and Journal (locustfork.net) and a free-lance journalist working out of Birmingham, Ala.


From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2007

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