Judges on Siegelman panel were all GOP appointees
Muriel Kane
Published: Friday March 6, 2009

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The rejection of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman's appeal to have his bribery conviction overturned has come to no surprise to some observers, who noted last fall that all three judges chosen for the panel were Republican appointees.

Blogger Legal Schnauzer wrote in November, "I have more than 30 years of experience as a journalist, and I'm not sure I buy [Siegelman lawyer Vince] Kilborn's statement that he isn't concerned about the makeup of the panel. For public consumption, he has to say the panel looks stellar and fair. But I find it hard to believe that News reporters Kim Chandler and Mary Orndorff would, on their own, go to the trouble of looking up controversial decisions these judges have been involved in. It looks to me like someone fed them that information, and it probably was someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy team. Why would someone on the Siegelman/Scrushy side feed that information to the reporters? Because they think the makeup of this panel stinks to high heaven--but they feel they can't say that publicly."

Two of the judges on the appeal panel -- who are both among the oldest currently serving -- were first appointed by President Richard Nixon. Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, who turns 80 this year, was appointed by Nixon to a federal district court in 1970 and then to the court of appeals by Gerald Ford in 1975. Senior Judge James C. Hill, who is almost 84, was appointed by Nixon to a district court in 1974 and then by Ford to the court of appeals in 1976.

The third, Chief Judge J.L. Edmondson, was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 and was named chief judge of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals by George W. Bush in 2002. Edmondson is well-known for his conservative decisions. For example, he ruled last year that a police officer's repeated tasering of a handcuffed suspect, not to subdue him but merely to force him to stand up and get into the police car, was "not outside the range of reasonable conduct."

Two of the judges have also been involved in previous cases related to the Siegelman prosecution. For example, Edmondson wrote the majority opinion (pdf) concluding that it had been legal for Bush to use a recess appointment in 2004 to install William Pryor as a judge on the Court of Appeals. It was Pryor who as Alabama's attorney general, initiated the first corruption investigations of Siegelman in 1999, almost immediately following his election as governor.

Tjoflat, for his part, was one of two judges who last year denied a request by Siegelman's co-defendant, Richard Scrushy, to be let out on bond while his case was being appealed.

Peherps even more to the point, Tjoflat served on the three-judge panel that decided a contended 1994 election for chief justice of Alabama's supreme court in favor of Republican Perry Hooper, Sr., following a prolonged recount battle.

Karl Rove had masterminded Hooper's campaign -- which was his first major foray into electoral politics outside of Texas -- in partnership with GOP operative William Canary. Canary's wife, Leura Canary, is the U.S. Attorney who brought the federal charges against Siegelman that led to his conviction, and William Canary has been accused by whistleblower Jill Simpson of having orchestrated Siegelman's prosecution in collaboration with Rove.

In 2005, Rove told the Federalist Society, "Hooper pulled off a stunning upset -- outspent, outworked -- he won by 262 votes out of over 1.2 million votes cast. And then, the day after the election, several thousand absentee ballots mysteriously surfaced, none of them witnessed nor notarized as required by Alabama law, and Sonny Hornsby tried to have them counted. It took a year of court battles before Hooper was finally seated. His groundbreaking victory would not have been possible without the work of many Alabamians -- including a young dynamic lawyer I got to know by the name of Bill Pryor -- and isn't he doing a terrific job."

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