Sunday, March 30, 2008
On this day:

The GOP reaction to Siegelman's release

Last Friday, I gave my thoughts on the 11th Circuit's ruling to release Don Siegelman from the federal hoosegow. On Thursday, the Alabama GOP said it was "disappointed" with the court's decision. While the GOP's reaction may not be too surprising, it seems overly vindictive, playing right into the hands of those who seek to cast this case as having been motivated solely by partisan politics. A more appropriate response would have been something like what the Birmingham News wrote in its editorial today :
In releasing Siegelman from prison, the appeals judges had to conclude the appeal raised "substantial questions of law or fact likely to result in reversal or an order for a new trial." That must inspire hopes for Siegelman and his supporters of ultimately having the case overturned.

But it's foolish to predict victory for Siegelman at this point. Thursday's ruling uses previous decisions to further define a "substantial" legal issue as "a `close' question or one that very well could be decided the other way." That doesn't mean the 11th Circuit has made up its mind. The court certainly didn't think so little of the case as to also release Scrushy, who it considers a flight risk and refused to set free.

But it does mean the charges against both Siegelman and Scrushy will be thoroughly vetted in the appeals process, as they should be.

In our view, Siegelman's actions leading to this case didn't serve the taxpayers' interests at all, and his justifications of those actions reflect a terribly cynical and sad view of political service. His actions as part of this criminal case haven't always reflected well on him, either.

But whatever our opinion of Siegelman's conduct, it doesn't change the fact he is absolutely entitled to fair treatment in the criminal justice system.

On appeal, Siegelman's defense team may show that he was innocent of the federal charges on which he was convicted, but as many of his fellow Alabama Democrats can attest, Don Siegelman ran one of the most ethically-challenged administrations in modern memory. In fact, Siegelman himself conceded as much during the district court proceedings. He didn't contest that many of the accusations of ethical misconduct against him were true; he only said that his actions didn't violate federal law. It seems to me that the GOP would do better to point that out than to dwell on how disappointing it is that Siegelman is no longer behind bars.