Alabama Scene

Siegelman, Scrushy had different paths

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

Former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy will walk free in a couple of months while his partner in crime, Don Siegelman, will have to return to finish the remainder of his sentence unless an appeal now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court is successful.

The question that comes to mind is which of these two who were convicted in a corruption case is better off by a federal court’s decision to allow Siegelman to go free on bond but refusing to allow bond for the 59- year-old Scrushy.

The two were convicted in 2006 of bribery and honest services fraud. The charges alleged that Scrushy bought a seat on a hospital regulatory board by arranging donations to Siegelman’s 1999 campaign to establish a state lottery.

Scrushy’s original sentence was for 82 months but he was re-sentenced in January to 70 months after a federal appeals court overturned two of his convictions. At that time he had already served 55 months of his original 82-month sentence.

Scrushy’s sentence officially ends in July but he has already been moved from a federal lockup in Beaumont, Texas, to a halfway house in San Antonio, where he will remain for a month before being placed on supervised release which will allow him to return home.

Meanwhile Siegelman, who has been free on bond after serving almost one year of his sentence, is awaiting a decision on whether his appeal will be considered by the high court. More than 100 former U.S. attorneys and state attorneys general have filed a brief in Siegelman’s support and the conservative syndicated columnist, George Will, has supported his case, saying this in his Feb. 10 column:

“All elected officials, and those who help finance elections in the expectation that certain promises will be kept – and everyone who cares about the rule of law – should hope the Supreme Court agrees to hear Don Siegelman’s appeal of his conviction. Until the court clarifies what constitutes quid pro quo political corruption, Americans engage in politics at their peril because prosecutors have dangerous discretion to criminalize politics.”

Siegelman argues in his appeal that political contributions enjoy First Amendment protection, and seeking them is not optional for a politician in America’s privately funded democracy. Furthermore, elected officials must undertake official acts; some which will be pleasing or otherwise beneficial to contributors. He argues that frequently this is nothing more than keeping campaign promises and that people contribute because they endorse a candidate’s agenda.

Will concludes that it is not uncommon for wealthy individuals to support presidential candidates lavishly, “if not for the purpose of becoming ambassadors, then with the hope that the president-elect will show gratitude for their generosity.” He then cites a Washington Post article of Jan. 19, 2011, titled “Embassy openings for open wallets”

If the walls on Goat Hill could testify to past deals in the Alabama capital similar to the one between Siegelman and Scrushy, those two would have lots of company in their current situation.

If the high court takes Siegelman’s case and rules in his favor he could possibly obtain a reprieve from having to return to federal prison. If that’s not the case, the same two counts removed from Scrushy’s time would also apply to Siegelman and he would obviously have less time to serve.

But what if Scrushy, who has already served his time, is exonerated by the high court? What does he get… a few shares of Health- South and the return of his sterling silver?

If this scenario plays out, I say the court should assess a fine against the Department of Justice of $200 million dollars and award $10 million to Scrushy for damages, $2 million to Siegelman for the time he served and the remaining $188 million to reimburse the government and defendants for Departmental incompetence in bringing the Bingo Trial circus to Montgomery.

The federal government’s ability to come into states and prosecute cases at the whim of some political hack in Washington must be stopped, just as rogue state prosecutors must also be made to toe the line by the use of sanctions.

This can only be carried out under our form of government by laws enforced by judges who are totally independent of political pressure. That isn’t the case in Washington and it certainly is not the case in Alabama.