Siegelman, Scrushy have little reason to be upbeat

Alabama Scene

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent E-mail:

Attorneys for Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy got 48 minutes last week to persuade a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals their clients should receive a new trial.

The panel of judges consisted of the chief judge of the circuit, James Larry Edmondson, age 62; a former chief judge of the court, Gerald Bard Tjoflat, age 79; and a senior judge, James Clinkscales Hill, age 84. There are 12 active judges on the court and five senior judges who sit when called. Three judges from Alabama, Joel Dubena, Ed Carnes, and Bill Pryor, are not participating in the case.

Edmondson was appointed to the court by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Tjoflat was appointed by President Richard Nixon to a federal district court in 1970 and elevated to the appeals court by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Hill was named to a district court by Nixon in 1974 and to the appeals court by Ford in 1976.

Siegelman and the lawyers for both him and Scrushy gave the panel high marks for their knowledge of the facts in the case. “I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and the understanding of this court. It showed they had clearly done their homework,” said Siegelman, who attended the hearing with his wife and two chldren.

Scrushy remains in prison because he is deemed a flight risk … His wife, Leslie, attended the hearing. Tjoflat was one of two judges who refused to release Scrushy on bond in June.

Tjoflat, a Republican partisan, also has a history of injecting himself into Alabama politics. He was part of a three-judge panel that ruled on the 1994 election contest for Alabama Supreme Court chief justice between Republican Perry Hooper Sr. and Democrat Sonny Hornsby. The panel upheld a lower-court ruling that threw out nearly 2000 absentee ballots, making Hooper the winner. Hill was part of a 2000 panel that allowed student-led prayer in Alabama’s public schools.

I do not share the optimism of Siegelman or the lawyers for him and Scrushy. What do lawyers say in public about judges who are about to decide the fate of their clients? They certainly don’t trash them. Neither do their clients.

I may be surprised and the case for a reversal may be strong enough to prevail, even with this panel of judges, but I believe it was not a good draw for Siegelman and Scrushy. The court’s panels are selected at random.

If the panel were to rule against Siegelman and Scrushy, the two could seek an en banc hearing of the full court. To obtain the full court hearing would require approval of a majority of the active judges on the court.

Hubbert pushes for tax on gambling

Paul Hubbert, the teacher lobbyist and head of the Alabama Education Association (AEA), says the Legislature should look at new taxes on the gambling industry to shore up the budget for state schools, which are facing severe cuts in 2009-10 because of the downturn in the economy. He calls gambling a “billion dollar business” in Alabama.

“I can understand the moral opposition to gambling – I feel it, too – but we have not been successful at stopping it from coming into our state, and we won’t be able to stop gaming from operating here,” Hubbert says in the association’s newspaper, The Alabama School Journal. He says the state could impose a gross-receipts tax on the “handle,” the total amount of money wagered at a dog track or bingo hall.

Hubbert said some counties are also considering taxing individual bingo machines. “Those are some of the kinds of taxes you could expect the state to levy,” he said.

Other than the income tax on winnings and sales taxes on concessions, the only statewide tax that Alabama imposes on gambling is a one-percent tax on dog race track owners on the pari-mutuel pool on all races. That raised $377,824 in the past fiscal year, according to the state Revenue Department.

In order to make this happen, Hubbert must get the support of Gov. Riley, who has opposed entering into any type of revenue sharing agreement with the Poarch Creek Indians, who are about to generate millions in additional revenue at their new facility at Atmore.