Lucy may be tougher than legal battles
Published 9:58 am Wednesday, December 15, 2004
There is probably no living Alabama politician who loves the political arena as much as Don Siegelman. He has spent his entire life in public office. After his paper thin, photo finish loss to Bob Riley in 2002, it was assumed that "the Don" was rearing to go for a rematch against Riley in 2006.
Siegelman set up shop in his favorite campaign headquarters at the Sheriff's Association Building within the shadow of the Capitol dome. This was his roost during the 1990s while he was out of office for four years from 1990-1994 and also during his four years as lieutenant governor, 1995-1998. He sets up shop in a back office and campaigns tirelessly.
If you drove by at any hour of the night into the wee hours of the morning, you would see the lights burning. Don was writing or-e-mailing friends and supporters. You could safely say that politics and the pursuit of public office has been and continue to be his life. The only sign of contentment and peace you could see on his face was when he was governor. It was his lifelong dream, the culmination of his quest since his college days as student body president at the University of Alabama.
As soon as it was determined that Riley had won, Siegelman began his race. He had to have been buoyed by Riley's disastrous start as governor in 2003.
It appeared that anybody would beat Riley in 2006, and Don was heir apparent. However, by year-end the rumors were rampant that Siegelman would be indicted for misdeeds in his administration.
It happened. It was expected in Montgomery but happened in Birmingham. Republican prosecutors brought the indictment and Siegelman's defense was that it was political. It was political, however, he was fortunate that the Republican U.S. Attorney, Alice Martin, is not the most experienced prosecutor in Alabama.
It was a gigantic mismatch of legal talent with the Martin team vs. the Joe Espy-Bobby Segal team. When you add into the mix that the federal judge is partial to Siegelman, it makes for an easy victory. U.W. Clemon, the federal judge on the case, made no bones about the fact that he didn't like the federal prosecutors. He ruled boldly and brazenly in favor of Siegelman on every motion, and finally, just threw the case out without it ever going before a jury. He also orchestrated the dismissal in a way that it could not be appealed.
Clemon, a loyal Democrat, delighted in thwarting the Republican plan to eliminate Siegelman. Clemon has a lifetime appointment and is tough, hard-boiled, and could care less if his rulings appear partial or one-sided.
Siegelman was joyous in his victory and was back on the circuit the next day, speaking to Democrats around the state and making it known that he was back in the 2006 Governor's race. He argued that the Republicans pursuing him with a criminal indictment and his beating the rap made him stronger.
This may be moot. The celebration may be premature. It has been assumed for many months that the other shoe has yet to drop on Siegelman. An indictment in Montgomery federal court is expected. While he cannot be prosecuted again on charges of Medicaid bid rigging which Clemon threw out in Birmingham, there is no preclusion from separate charges being brought in Montgomery.
The federal jurisdiction in Montgomery is different from the one in Birmingham. The Montgomery federal grand jury has been hearing testimony for months surrounding Siegelman's administration. Rumors persist that the fat lady has not sung on Siegelman's legal and criminal problems.
The areas that are speculated to be spotlighted are the acceptance of sports vehicle gifts, his selling of his house to a political friend for five times its value and his collecting exorbitant legal fees while he was governor. A jury can more easily understand these transgressions than a complicated Medicaid bid rigging legal gobbledygook.
Siegelman is a fighter. If he survives or escapes indictment in Montgomery, he will have pulled off a Houdini trick that shows he is a cat with many lives. In the meantime, a new front-runner has evolved as the Democratic nominee in 2006. Beating Lucy Baxley may be a tougher task than avoiding federal prosecution.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us <">http://www.steveflowers.us/> .