Monday, October 04, 2004
On this day:

Siegelman Trial Begins

Jury selection for former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and long-time aide Paul Hamrick's Medicaid fraud trial began today in U.S. District Court judge U.W. Clemon's courtroom. Siegelman and Hamrick face charges of health care fraud and conspiracy. They are accused of conspiring to rig bids for state Medicaid contracts in favor of Tuscaloosa doctor and Siegelman supporter Phillip Bobo. Bobo will stand trial separately.

The Birmingham News has a good rundown of who's who in the case.

It sounds like the prosecution is going to have its work cut out for it with this particular judge. Earlier in this case, for example, Judge Clemon ordered a U.S. Marshal to arrest one of the prosecutors for "interrupting" him with an objection, after sustaining objections for defense lawyers that they never even raised. (Read the article to get the full jist of the judge's antics.)

A few other interesting facts:

Judge Clemon was himself represented in a 1995 criminal investigation by former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley. Baxley currently represents Amy Herring, one of the witnesses in the case.

Clemon's daughter was a partner in the Birmingham law firm of Maynard, Cooper, and Gale. That firm has had close ties to Siegelman and his administration. One partner served as Siegelman's legal advisor and another served him as special counsel. Clemon's daughter, while employed by the firm, was hired to work for the state on a discrimination lawsuit shortly after Siegelman's election as Governor. According to this article, Siegelman's office had urged that the firm be hired to work on the suit. Indeed, the one doing the urging was Siegelman's legal advisor - the same fellow who had been a partner for Maynard, Cooper, and Gale prior to going to work in the Governor's office.

Judge Clemon was elected to the State Senate as a Democrat in 1974 and 1978, while Siegelman was chairman of the State Democratic Party. Clemon has stated that he does not recall ever having had a "substantive conversation" with Siegelman during that time.

Clemon is the fourth federal judge to hear this case. All three of the other judges stepped aside due to potential conflicts of interest.

Judge Clemon has been forced off at least two other cases in the past due to potential conflicts of interest, after refusing to step aside.

The defense has contended that Siegelman and Hamrick did not have access to or control of the $550,000 in funds in question. These funds were routed through the Alabama Fire College to be used by Dr. Bobo to bribe the Alabama Health Network, his competitor, into not bidding on the Medicaid contract. Siegelman and Hamrick contend that since only the legislature controls state funds, they would not have had the capacity to do the things that are alleged. They've also argued that, in any event, Hamrick was just trying to do his part to serve the state's interests. However, prosecutors say that Hamrick contacted state Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, the chairman of the Senate education budget committee, and told him to send $550,000 to the Fire College. Sanders presumably would have been able to do that due to his position in the legislature. But, it sounds like Sanders is not being called by prosecutors as a witness. Hmmm.

According to this, prosecutors claimed that one of Siegelman's lawyers, Bobby Segall, once represented a competitor of Dr. Bobo. He was contacted by Dr. Bobo's lobbyists "to consider an offer under which Bobo would avoid bidding on contracts in their area if Segall's client would avoid bidding in Bobo's area." (Question: How many doctors have/need their very own LOBBYISTS (that's plural) in Montgomery? And I thought BOBO was a clown.)

Anyway, all of these connections are enough to boggle the mind. And, this judge seems...well...just a little biased. None of it produces much confidence in the way state business is conducted, that's for sure.