Archive for the ‘Richard Scrushy’ Category

Siegelman Judge Asked To Recuse Now, With Kagan and Rove Opposing Oversight

April 13, 2010

Imprisoned businessman Richard Scrushy, a defendant in the most controversial federal prosecution of the decade, last week repeated his call for the presiding judge to remove himself ─ even as the disputes widened to include reported Supreme Court contender Elena Kagan, up to $50 billion in scandal-ridden Air Force contracts, and Karl Rove’s best-selling new memoir.

Scrushy, now serving a seven-year sentence for arranging $500,000 in donations to a non-profit at the request of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, requested last week that Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Montgomery rule on recusal requests filed last summer, or else withdraw.  

Scrushy and Siegelman have argued that the judge is disqualified after being enriched by $300 million in Bush-era contracts via the judge’s closely held company Doss Aviation for such services as refueling Air Force planes and training pilots.

“Quite simply, there is no valid reason for this Court’s failure to dispose of this motion in a timely fashion,” wrote Scrushy’s attorneys last week. 

The former HealthSouth CEO’s conviction is based on his donations to the Alabama Education Foundation in 1999 and 2000 at the request of then-governor Siegelman.  In June 2007, Fuller ordered seven-year terms for defendants.  The judge sent them immediately to prison in shackles with no appeal bond, with solitary confinement initially for Siegelman.

A Republican, Scrushy has argued that he was an innocent bystander caught up in a plan by the Bush Justice Department to eliminate the Democrat Siegelman from politics.  “I’m the first person in history,” Scrushy has said, “to be sent to prison for making a charitable donation.”

Both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments have maintained that neither Fuller nor they have done anything wrong.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller (Phil Fleming Photo)

$50 Billion In Air Force Contracts At Stake

Meanwhile, I reported last week that a factor prompting Siegelman’s prosecution was the aim of some Republicans to see up to $50 billion in awards for next-generation Air Force refueling tankers go to Europe’s multi-national consortium EADS and Northrop Grumman. 

The EADS-led plan would replace Boeing Corp., the previous tanker builder.  Years ago, EADS used competitive intelligence agents to show that Boeing had bribed an Air Force procurement officer.  My article noted that an EADS victory would enable an assembly plant in Alabama, as advocated by four European heads of state, major global financiers and some U.S. politicians.   

“The ring of truth in the article,” Siegelman wrote me last week after publication and follow-up, “is that Republicans wanted EADs, and I was close to Boeing because I had helped them expand their National Missile Defense Center in Huntsville and had them locate a manufacturing facility for the Delta IV and Delta II Rockets in Decatur, AL.” 

Siegelman was Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003, but lost reelection in 2002 when 6,000 of his votes mysteriously shifted from voting machines in Baldwin County after polls closed.  “Keep in mind,” Siegelman wrote last week, “the head of Alabama’s Business Council after my election was stolen was, and is, Bill Canary.”

Siegelman argues that Rove worked with Alabama prosecutors who included U.S. Attorney Leura Canary.  Her husband is Rove’s longtime friend and political ally Canary, whose work included managing the 2002 campaign of Siegelman’s Republican rival Bob Riley, Alabama’s current governor.  

Power Plays Against Obama’s Nominations

Both Leura and Bill Canary have issued statements denying wrongdoing.  To defer to Alabama’s two powerful Republican senators, the Obama administration has so far continued her in office after she served during the two Bush administrations as the president’s top prosecutor in Alabama’s middle district, covering the state capital region.   

In February, Sen. Richard Shelby threatened to issue a blanket Senate hold on all Obama federal appointments unless the Defense Department gives more consideration to EADS-Northrop Grumman’s bid.  Sen. Jeff Sessions also wields power as the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, and thus the gatekeeper for any Obama judicial or Justice Department nominee.

Leura Canary’s office continues to make news as federal investigators this month warned state lawmakers that they risk prosecution if they illegally help Alabama’s nascent electronic bingo industry fought by Riley. 

This is part of a long-term battle making allies of anti-gambling crusaders and Mississippi casino operators, who seek to retain Alabama gambling business.  Senate testimony has revealed that Jack Abramoff arranged for $10 million in donations from Mississippi casino owners to fight Siegelman, who promised in his 1999 election campaign to create a lottery to obtain funding for better schools.  Siegelman signed a personal note to help found the Alabama Education Foundation to advocate for lotteries and the funding.  

Bush administration prosecutors used Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base as headquarters for a multi-year investigation of Siegelman to show that Scrushy’s donations to the foundation were in effect a bribe to Siegelman, who in 1999 reappointed Scrushy to a state board. 

A bipartisan group of 91 former state attorneys general from more than 40 states have since formed an unprecedented coalition filing  a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court and arguing it should hear Siegelman’s case because his actions did not constitute a crime.

But Kagan, now widely reported as a leading candidate to ascend from her post as Justice Department solicitor general to become her friend Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court vacancy, urged the high court in November to deny Siegelman a hearing.

She cited technical legal arguments devised with the assistance of DOJ’s trial prosecutors.  Since the 2006 convictions DoJ has withstood complaints that include: political prosecution with Rovejudge-shopping, jury tampering, lying about the recusal of Alabama’s top prosecutor, firing a DoJ whistleblower, and suppressing evidence that DoJ tried to blackmail its central witness.

Kagan’s argument is certain to inflame Siegelman’s supporters around the country if she is nominated to the Supreme Court.  DOJ has requested that Fuller resentence Siegelman, now 64, to an additional 20 years in prison even though Siegelman supporters estimate they have sent DOJ, the White House and news media outlets tens of thousands of complaints in recent years.

Yet DOJ argues that Fuller should remain deciding the case because not one reasonable person in the United States would think his impartiality could be questioned, which it cites as the relevant legal standard for recusal.

Rove Renews Attacks

Concurring with DOJ’s view is former White House advisor Rove, now on book tour promoting his memoir Courage and Consequence that denies any improper role by him, others in the Bush White House, prosecutors or the judge. 

Also, Rove mocks whistleblowers and congressional Democrats alike who have become involved in the Siegelman/Scrushy case. 

One Rove target is California Congressman Adam Schiff, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief interrogator last July asking Rove about his role in DOJ prosecutions.  In Courage, Rove says Schiff “was clearly not prepared.” 

Schiff’s work can be examined here in the transcripts.  Schiff, via his communications director, declined to respond to Rove’s insult, which encompasses also the committee entrusting Schiff to lead its review.  

Rove wrote also in Courage that a Democratic committee staffer privately disparaged to him Republican whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson.  She is an Alabama lawyer from rural Rainsville who had stepped forward to provide the committee in 2007 with sworn testimony and documentation of the court record on military contracting.

She alleged a plan by her fellow Republicans as early as 2002 to frame Siegelman, and later steer the case to Fuller.  Her testimony said that Riley’s son Robert confided to her in 2005 even before Siegelman was indicted in his second trial that Fuller hated Siegelman and would “hang” him.  Robert Riley has issued a statement denying her claim, but has not been called to testify.

Simpson responds that the facts would become obvious if Congress for the first time summoned witnesses for a public hearing under oath, or if the Supreme Court would examine the court filings on Fuller’s conflicts.  Siegelman, released on bond in 2008 by federal appeals court Democrats promptly after CBS 60 Minutes alleged government misconduct, also seeks Supreme Court review and a first-ever congressional hearing. 

Simpson, as a behind-the-scenes unpaid whistleblower in 2007, helped Scrushy’s attorneys submit a filing to Fuller in April 2007 seeking judicial recusal because, unknown to defendants, the judge owned up to 44% of Doss when it received an Air Force contract for $178 million just before the start of trial.

Fuller refused to recuse himself.  DOJ endorsed the judge’s continuation and communicated ex parte with the judge to help him resolve the matter, in part by seal the allegations against him temporarily from public view.  Doss officials and Fuller have declined comment on the judge’s current Doss ownership, which reportedly dwindled to 32% several years ago. Nearly all other shareholders owned 6%.

In general, the Obama administration maintains that the nation should look ahead, not bog down in recriminations.

On Friday, Obama’s DOJ withdrew the nomination of Indiana law professor Dawn Johnsen, a critic of Bush torture and detention policies, to run DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.  That unit guides both the White House and DOJ on permissible uses of powers.  Progressive commentators argue that her appointment died because she was perceived as too independent to be trusted in review over Bush and Obama DOJ decision-making.

Last summer, Scrushy and Siegelman renewed their recusal and other appellate issues with filings that included a claim that the prosecution’s chief witness Nick Bailey was sexually blackmailed by interrogators at the Air Force base to shape his trial testimony. 

Fuller’s failure to rule on withdrawal thus prompted last week’s Scrushy filing, which said: “The recusal motion was based on three grounds: the fact that the Chief Judge is a material witness to the facts concerning an ex parte meeting in early April 2007, which is at issue in Defendant’s pending new trial motion; that the Chief Judge has personal knowledge of contested facts as a result of that meeting; and that the Chief Judge’s conduct raises grave questions as to his impartiality and the appearance of that impartiality.”

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I’m Shocked, Shocked! To Find Politics In Defense Contracting

April 10, 2010
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)

President Obama announced last week at a White House press conference with his French counterpart that the United States will use fair procedures to award up to $50 billion for next generation Air Force refueling planes.  The Defense Department followed up by delaying for 60 days the bid deadline so that EADS can compete with Boeing Corp. in bidding advertised as free of politics.

But a review of the ruthless tactics used so far suggests that running a politics-free contracting competition is like running a Casablanca casino that has no gambling.

Political, financial and military leaders of at least four foreign powers have pressed for U.S. taxpayer dollars in the closing months of the nearly decade-long competition between Boeing and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. (EADS).  In addition to France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom’s Gordon Brown have visibly pushed for a share of jobs from one of the largest U.S. military contracts in history.

Summarized below are a few of the political intrigues used to win the contract, whose value could be vastly higher than the estimated $35 billion to $50 billion because the winner gets vital momentum for similar deals with other nations.

To secure an EADS victory that would enable a large new assembly factory in Alabama, the state’s senior Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in February put a blanket Senate hold on 70 top-level Obama federal appointments, thereby disrupting the administration’s effort for more control over the federal bureaucracy before mid-term elections.  Shelby backed off after flexing his Senate muscle.

But this kind of political brinksmanship could enable EADS and its primarily Republican Senate backers to delay final Pentagon decision-making past next November’s mid-terms.  The election results could then provide EADS backers enough new clout to threaten Boeing.

On its face, the idea of unseating a U.S. contractor might seem just as far-fetched as last month’s disputed announcement that a state-owned Russian aviation consortium would try to bid.

But my work at the Justice Integrity Project has unearthed sources describing other mind-boggling tactics.  My exclusive report for Huffington Post this weekend, for example, describes how former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former Air Force Assistant Secretary Darleen Druyun were imprisoned on corruption charges initiated by EADS supporters.

Siegelman, 64, clearly was framed, in my opinion.  His ostensible crime was denying Alabama his “honest services” by requesting in 1999 a donation to a pro-education non-profit, and then reappointing the donor to a volunteer state board.

But Siegelman’s real “crime” was election as a Democratic governor from 1999 to 2003 with good prospects for reelection unless targeted by the all-out criminal probes run by Republican-controlled entities. These included a remarkable level of involvement by the Air Force itself in hosting at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base the headquarters for a multi-year federal-state investigation targeting Siegelman.  That probe resulted in his 2005 indictment before his reelection campaign and conviction the following year.  Now free on bond after serving nearly a year of his seven-year term, he now faces Justice Department recommendations that he be imprisoned for 20 more years and that the Supreme Court deny his appeal, which is supported by an unprecedented coalition of 91 former state attorneys general saying Siegelman’s request for the education donations didn’t constitute a crime.

By contrast, I’ve seen no evidence that Druyun didn’t deserve her nine-month prison sentence for using her Air Force job to create favorable terms for Boeing tanker leases while lining up Boeing jobs for herself, her daughter and prospective son-in-law.

As a result of these prosecutions, the EADS path became easier for its long-shot bid to replace Boeing.  Former Congressman Bob Riley, Siegelman’s successor as Alabama’s governor, used his connections with European and fellow Republican leaders to plan the huge tanker parts assembly factory in Mobile, thereby providing the EADS deal with a vital Made-in-America image.

Similarly, GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona used competitive intelligence originally developed by political operatives loyal to EADS and the Bush/Rove White House to lead a multi-year Armed Services Committee investigation of the Druyun scandal.  The probe thoroughly embarrassed Boeing and the Air Force.  Boeing’s chairman resigned, and another top-level official was imprisoned.

More important, the Air Force reopened bidding, and awarded the tanker contract in early 2008 to EADS and its then-partner Northrop Grumman Corp.  This was just as McCain’s revived presidential campaign was eliminating his Republican competitors.

In March 2008, Washington investigative reporter and now Russia Today cable commentator Wayne Madsen reported that Europe’s Rothschild family was supporting McCain and the EADs deal, as were key allies of the Bush family.  That spring, the Associated Press documented how five EADS backers supported McCain, including his co-chairman and key financial supporter Tom Loeffler.  Federal contractors and foreign citizens are forbidden to contribute, but not their allies.

McCain’s earlier investigation of Boeing had received mostly positive reviews.  “It’s the best example of congressional oversight that we’ve seen in a decade,” Taxpayers for Common Sense Vice President Keith Ashdown told the Washington Independent.  “It was before the completely bone-headed decision to bring on all those EADS lobbyists.”

Last June, the Government Accounting Office overturned the EADS/Northrop Grumman award, saying that the Bush administration’s Defense Department had slanted criteria against Boeing.  Northrop Grumman dropped out of the bidding this year, saying the process was too expensive and its bid with EADS was unlikely to succeed under the Air Force’s new specifications under Obama.

That left Boeing’s rivals scrambling for credible partners and strategies, including a way to build the factory in Mobile.  EADS kept up its momentum via the direct talks between the French and U.S. presidents last week on world issues, including a fair process for tanker bidding.

“It’s in the interest of American taxpayers,” said Obama, “and it’s also in the interest of our young men and woman who rely on this equipment in order to protect this nation.”

Sarkozy responded that he trusts Obama.  “If you say to me that the request for proposals, the call for tenders, will be free, fair and transparent,” said the French president, “then we say EADS will bid and we trust you.”

Such benign words obscure the ongoing struggle for well-paid manufacturing jobs.  Boeing, of course, has its own stable of political advocates, who argue that tanker construction is overdue.  “It’s wrong to slow down this critical procurement process,” said Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, which has 3,000 Boeing employees.  “Our entire military relies on refueling tankers, which were built in the 1950s.”

Decision-makers downplay any pressures.  “We have been and continue to make decisions on this critical program based solely on the law of the land and the needs of our war-fighters,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell last week.  “Politics are not a part of this process –– never have been, never will be.”

Sounds great!  And is there any gambling in the casino?

Air Force Delay In Tanker Bidding Extends Political Intrigues

April 3, 2010

Let’s hope the Obama administration this week delayed its deadline for picking the next generation of Air Force tankers for good reason, as claimed ─ not as a cave-in to those who want U.S. taxpayers to fund European jobs.

To kowtow to Europe’s EADS and their mostly Republican U.S. allies for the wrong reasons would only hurt the U.S. economy and encourage scandalous conduct that’s been occurring on both sides of the nearly decade-long EADS rivalry with Boeing over tanker contracts.

Talks this week between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy resulted in a Pentagon announcement March 31 that it would delay its deadline for bids 60 days until July 9 if desired by EADS, the acronym for European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Obama said during a joint press conference March 30 in Washington that he promised Sarkozy that Defense Department decision-making would be “free and fair” because the U.S. wants to hold a transparent bidding process.

The contract’s value officially is estimated at $35 billion, one of the largest in American history.  But the value could be vastly higher because the contract winner gets vital momentum for similar deals with other nations around the world.

Political, financial and military leaders of five world powers are active at their highest levels. In addition to France’s leader, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom’s Gordon Brown are also interested in securing jobs from the U.S. contracts.  

Boeing issued a statement April 1 denying any legitimate reason to extend the bidding past DOD’s previous deadline May 10 to accommodate the Europeans.  EADS has been pushing for a longer bidding process that might push final decision-making past mid-term U.S. elections.

In jockeying for an EADS victory that would create a large assembly factory in Alabama, the state’s senior Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in February put a blanket hold on 70 top-level Obama federal appointments. 

Shelby disrupted the Obama administration as it entered a critical phase of its second year after numerous delays in appointments during the first year that are keeping holdovers in many key slots throughout government.  In Alabama’s middle district, for example, Leura Canary remains as U.S. attorney despite being one of the nation’s most controversial “loyal Bushies” (the term comes from a former Bush DOJ chief of staff) targeting such key Democrats as Alabama’s former Gov. Don Siegelman.    

Later, Shelby backed off in blocking all Obama appointments after flexing his Senate muscle.  As a countermeasure, the Obama administration just made 15 recess appointments to try to secure control of federal bureaucracy before too much more time passes. 

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby

But the political clock is ticking in other ways if EADS and its backers can nudge final Pentagon decision-making on July bids a few more weeks into the period after November’s U.S. elections.   Republicans are expected to gain far more congressional clout.  At that point, the Republican mastery of Senate rules even when they’re in the minority, combined with European financial muscle could threaten Boeing, which is no slouch itself in power politics in the United States and internationally.

Ensuring an award to EADS was a factor, according to my sources, behind two of the past decade’s most notable federal corruption prosecutions, those of Siegelman and former Air Force Assistant Secretary Darleen Druyun.  An independent review is the primary focus of my work with the start-up Justice Integrity Project.   Prosecutors dispute any political motive in either investigation.

In 2006, federal authorities working through Canary’s office convicted Siegelman, regarded by my political sources as less adept than his Republican rival Bob Riley in the congressional and international clout needed to ensure an EADS victory and an Alabama reassembly plant. 

Riley had been a leader in House military appropriations before narrowly defeating Siegelman in 2002 gubernatorial election. As a congressman and then as governor, Riley cultivated contacts with Russian raw material suppliers and France-based manufacturers who are major advocates of EADS.   

Also, the federal authorities won a corruption conviction against Druyun, building on initial investigative work by Boeing’s opponents in the competitive intelligence community.  Earlier, Druyun had helped Boeing obtain highly favorable terms on Air Force tanker leases.  She then received a $250,000 per year job at Boeing in 2003 after her retirement from the Air Force.

Her conviction helped overturn the initial Air Force award and reopen bidding, which is still continuing with this week’s extension.

This kind of intense interest in building airplanes is, of course, well-understood among Washington’s lobbyists and those whom they fund for elective office.  Closely following such contract awards also are national security proponents and business leaders in localities hosting proposed factories. 

Mobile County, for example, maintains an advocacy website called Save Our Tanker, where I’ve signed up as a “supporter” to receive news updates.   Another major advocate for EADS is the Business Council of Alabama, whose CEO/president is the prosecutor Canary’s husband William Canary.  He’s also the former campaign manager for Riley in his 2002 victory against Siegelman and a former Republican National Committee chief of staff.  

Boeing and its supporters foster similar efforts, including plans to apportion the tanker jobs around the U.S. to gather strong bipartisan support among congressional delegations.  Boeing’s claims that more U.S. manufacturing jobs will come from an award to a U.S. based company.  But traditional “Buy American” procedures have been eroded over the long term as both parties seek the financial rewards of globalization, as well as compliance with fair trade rules.

Boeing’s advocates include Republican Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas, which has an estimated 3,000 Boeing employees, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They were among the senators who wrote Obama March 31 to urge the president “to move forward on the Air Force tanker competition without delay.”  Their letter noted a March 23 final decision by a World Trade Organization panel that European governments had illegally subsidized the EADS subsidiary Airbus.

Who’s Who Backgrounder

On this spring weekend, U.S. taxpayers trying to make ends meet in a troubled economy and preoccupied during religious holidays deserve a backgrounder.  Here goes:

The current fleet of tankers used for mid-air refueling was built by Boeing in contracts dating back five decades.  In 2001, Boeing was awarded a renewal of the contract.   

Riley, as a member of the House, undertook discussions with French and other European interests to secure their support for an assembly plant in Mobile.  Riley also won Alabama’s 2002 election with the help 6,000 votes stricken from Siegelman’s election machine totals after polls closed on election night in Baldwin County, which adjoins Mobile on the Florida border.

Throughout the early part of this decade, Siegelman was targeted for investigation on corruption charges via what became a massive federal-state probe that Republican administrations headquartered at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force base.  Siegelman’s lead prosecutor was a powerful colonel in the Air Force reserves who supervised the case, including prospective witnesses brought to the base for pre-trial questioning.  In 2005, Siegelman was indicted and a year later convicted in his second trial on corruption charges as he planned to run for re-election. His main convictions were for seeking donations from a businessman for a non-profit advocating for better school funding and then reappointing the donor to a board. 

Siegelman’s judge, Middle District Chief U.S. Judge Mark Fuller, meanwhile was being enriched by the Air Force as the principal stockholder of closely held Doss Aviation.  Siegelman’s judge held between 32 and 44% of Doss shares while the company was receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in Air Force contracts to refuel Air Force planes and train Air Force pilots.

Chief U.S. Judge Mark Fuller

All individuals mentioned above and both the Bush and Obama Justice Department have denied any special political or Air Force motivations in the Siegelman prosecution, despite claims of misconduct by whistleblowers and a witness interrogated at the Air Force base.

Also, Fuller has declined to recuse himself for conflict of interest, saying not one reasonable person in the U.S. would think it necessary. Former White House strategist Karl Rove’s best-selling new memoir Courage and Consequence defends Fuller stock-holdings during Siegelman’s prosecution, and denies any Rove involvement in Siegelman’s prosecution.

The Justice Department has agreed with the judge, and is seeking 20 additional years in prison for Siegelman.  The Obama administration seeks to prevent any Supreme Court review.   Meanwhile, the Air Force’s contract award via Druyun’s office was overturned in 2005 after Sen. John McCain of Arizona led the Senate Armed Services Committee investigation exposing Boeing’s corruption with Druyun. 

EADS (via its North American subsidiary) and its then-partner Northrop Grumman then won the tanker contract.  The award vindicated the high hopes of those advocating what had once been a long-shot bid. Benefits extended beyond Mobile to the economies of the nearby Florida Panhandle and Mississippi, and of course to European interests performing much of the work.

In 2008, the Associated Press documented that McCain’s Presidential campaign was being supported by a number of EADS backers, including McCain’s co-chairman and key financial supporter Tom Loeffler, a former Texas congressman whose firm lobbied for EADS.  Federal contractors and foreign citizens are forbidden to contribute, but not their allies.

McCain’s investigation originally received mostly positive reviews.  “It’s the best example of congressional oversight that we’ve seen in a decade,” Keith Ashdown, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Washington Independent.  “It was before the completely bone-headed decision to bring on all those EADS lobbyists.”

Last June, the Government Accounting Office overturned the EADS/Northrop Grumman award, saying that the Bush administration’s criteria had been slanted to favor their planes. 

Northrop Grumman dropped out of the bidding this year, saying the bidding process was too expensive and its bid with EADS was unlikely to succeed under Air Force specifications.  That left Boeing’s opponents scrambling for credible partners and strategies.

Last month, a Los Angeles lawyer said his client United Aircraft, a holding company for several Russian aircraft companies, would soon announce a joint venture with an unnamed U.S. defense contractor to seek the contracts.  But the company itself denied interest, and Russia’s prime minister edged away from advocacy of that proposal.

EADS has kept up its momentum via the direct talks between the French and U.S. presidents this week on a variety of world issues.  Among other topics, the leaders agreed on what they described as a fair process for the tanker bidding.

“It’s in the interest of American taxpayers,” said Obama, “and it’s also in the interest of our young men and woman who rely on this equipment in order to protect this nation.”

Sarkozy responded that he trusts Obama.  “If you say to me that the request for proposals, the call for tenders, will be free, fair and transparent,” said the French president, “then we say EADS will bid and we trust you.”

Behind those benign words looms the titanic struggle for jobs and power among nations.  The stakes were portrayed in a March 19, 2008 column by Washington-based commentator Wayne Madsen, a former National Security Agency analyst, Fox News contributor and active volunteer leader for McCain during his 2000 presidential campaign in Northern Virginia.

Madsen, now a TV commentator for the Russia Today cable program, wrote two years ago about McCain’s 2008 efforts: “Tomorrow, McCain will be feted at a campaign luncheon at London’s swank Spencer House at St. James Place by Lord Jacob Rothschild and Nathan Rothschild.”  Madsen went on to describe at length ties between U.S., EADS, Russian, Alabama and other leaders supported by such influential players as the Rothschild family and the Carlyle Group.

Boeing, of course, has its own stable of powerful advocates, who drum up political funding for their candidates and argue that tanker construction is overdue.  “It’s wrong to slow down this critical procurement process,” said the Kansas Republican Brownback about the Pentagon’s bidding extension for EADS.  “Our entire military relies on refueling tankers, which were built in the 1950s.”

For the moment, however, most are downplaying tensions publicly.  Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said this week that the deadline change is the only modification that the Defense Department will make to specifications for the 179 refueling tankers.  Even the 60-day delay is 30 days short of what EADS has requested to make a viable bid.  The Pentagon then needs months to review the bids, aiming for a decision just before the November elections.

“We have been and continue to make decisions on this critical program based solely on the law of the land and the needs of our war-fighters,” Morrell said.  “Politics are not a part of this process –– never have been, never will be.”

Federal Political Prosecutions Probed At March 25 Forum By Amerian University In DC

March 25, 2010

Citizen action to reform abuses in political and other arbitrary prosecutions is the topic of an American University forum that I’ll join March 25, entitled: “Just Justice: Political Actions by the Department of Justice.”

The two-hour session beginning at 5:30 p.m. features victims and independent experts describing how the public is hurt by politically motivated prosecutions against public officials on the local, state and national levels.  The forum is located in Ward Hall 2.  It’s free and open to the public.

I’ll describe why the public needs to energize their media surrogates to provide more oversight on Justice Department (DOJ) decision-making because of failures of courts and Congress.  I’m summarizing government misconduct in DOJ prosecutions of Republican former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and Democratic former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman that I documented in Harvard University’s Nieman Watchdog:

Prof. Donald C. Shields, Ph.D.

Another speaker will be University of Missouri Professor Donald C. Shields, who undertook the pioneering research that indicated the Bush Justice Department prosecuted Democrats at a 7:1 ratio in official corruption investigations during its first seven years. 

He’ll provide an update on his more recent research covering the full eight years of the administration, including that regarding racial patterns. 

His research includes 2007 testimony (below) before the House Judiciary Committee illustrating problems revealed by hundreds of cases across the nation.  Their targets had scant understanding of the parallels to their cases elsewhere until his research and a documentary film released last year by Project Save Justice, which was researched by its Vice President Gail Sistrunk and noted filmmaker John McTiernan, whose credits include Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October.  A sample of the Shields research is:

Here’s some additional background from a press release.  We need more events like this around the country, and this is a good start!  Contact me if you have ideas for a similar program in your area, and can help make it happen. 

About Prof. Donald C. Shields

Donald C. Shields (Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1974) is Professor Emeritus, Department of Communication, University of Missouri—St. Louis. He currently serves as a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies, University of Missouri—Kansas City. His primary line of research has investigated symbolic convergence theory and communication.  He has authored or co-authored 10 books and more than 35 book chapters, and more than a dozen of his studies have been reprinted in other books and journals.  

About Andrew Kreig and Justice Integrity Project

Andrew Kreig is an attorney, author and commentator listed in Who’s Who in the World since the mid-1990s. As president of the Wireless Communications Association International for 12 years, he helped lead the advance of the broadband wireless industry worldwide.  He founded the Justice Integrity Project as a non-partisan organization to examine misconduct by federal prosecutors and judges and the consequences for the public.  Details.  # # #    

DoJ’s Attack On Former Gov. Siegelman’s Rights Threatens Election Rights For Many Across Nation

September 12, 2009

On Aug. 27, holdover officials from the Bush Justice Department filed 226 pages arguing that former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and his co-defendant have presented no evidence since their 2006 bribery convictions that justifies a hearing or new trial.

No evidence?

As too often in the past, DoJ officials look like they’re exaggerating to block justice and to protect themselves. By seeking to imprison Siegelman for 20 additional years, DoJ clearly seeks to end public debate about Alabama’s most prominent Democrat. He held that distinction for years, at least until he narrowly lost re-election in 2002 following still-mysterious Election night switches of 6,000 votes out of his column in a rural county after polls closed.

The all-out federal criminal prosecution launched against Siegelman in 2004 remains the centerpiece of unresolved evidence that Karl Rove used DoJ to target Democratic officials nationwide. In-depth public scrutiny of the DoJ’s high-ranking prosecution teams risks revelations about similar problems in hundreds of other disputed DoJ investigations that altered the nation’s political map during the Bush years.

In the long run, however, DoJ risks even more – including public confidence that it’s protecting our rights to fair elections and trials – if it shirks its responsibility to endorse a full hearing to clear the air.

New evidence since Siegelman’s 2006 trial includes claims of judicial bias and corruption, plus DoJ political prosecution orchestrated by Rove, judge-shopping, jury tampering, failing to comply with prosecutor recusal, firing a DoJ whistleblower, and suppressing evidence that DoJ tried to blackmail its central witness against Siegelman with a sex scandal.

Also, 75 former state attorneys general ─ the chief law enforcers from more than 40 states ─ made a bipartisan filing that is unprecedented in U.S. legal history to argue that Siegelman committed no crime by appointing a donor to a state post. Siegelman’s convictions centered on his 1999 request to HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy to donate to a non-profit foundation to improve Alabama’s funding for education via a state lottery.

Scrushy arranged two donations to the foundation. Siegelman reappointed Scrushy to an unpaid state board on which he’d served under three previous governors. A jury that reported deadlock finally found guilt on 7 of 32 bribery-related charges. The defendants received lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.

Last year, Siegelman, now 63, was released on appeal bond after a CBS 60 Minutes exposé about his prosecution. Scrushy, 53, remains in prison, with each of his convictions stemming from the donations to the education foundation that Siegelman helped create to counter millions in spending by casino owners allied with anti-gambling advocates.

Alabama’s Republican Party sniped at CBS reporting.

But former National Press Club President Robert Ames Alden, a Washington Post editor for 48 years who supervised coverage of many major stories before his retirement in 2000, found the coverage compelling. “The Siegelman prosecution,” Alden tells me, “is one of the worst miscarriages of justice that I’m aware of in the past half century in America.”

Denial Under Oath?
DoJ’s most recent filing falsely told presiding federal judge Mark Fuller that Business Council of Alabama CEO William Canary has denied under oath to the House Judiciary Committee that he schemed with “Karl” to remove Siegelman from Alabama politics. But no committee record exists of such a sworn statement, as noted by Alabama reporter Roger Shuler.

Canary, a former Republican National Committee chief of staff, is well-known in relevant quarters of DoJ. Many “loyal Bushies” remain in power after eight years of employment practices that included mid-term firings of U.S. attorneys who failed to use their powers for political prosecutions. News reports and litigation show that the Bush DoJ also relied heavily on politics in hiring and promoting career staff.

Canary is a longtime Rove ally who advised Alabama’s current Republican governor in his successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign against Siegelman. Canary’s wife Leura, shown below in her official photo, is Alabama’s U.S. attorney for the office that is prosecuting Siegelman. She remains in power despite the nation’s tradition that its 93 U.S. attorneys resign after a change of presidents.

Most of those accused of framing Siegelman deny claims by the defense, whistleblowers and investigative reporters. But none of the denials have been in public under oath and subject to cross-examination. Some have been comments to the press, and many others have been in affidavits that can avoid key issues.

Rove and Harriet Miers, the highest-ranking of the Bush White House advisors accused of improperly interfering at DoJ, were interviewed in private this summer by House Judiciary Committee staff and a Congressman from each party. But the interview rules did not require an oath. Upon release of the transcripts Aug. 11, Rove claimed vindication in his Wall Street Journal column.

A Real Probe Needed
But Rove and Miers asserted memory loss many times on key questions during their interviews, and Rove misled his Journal readers by falsely claiming that Alabama whistleblower Dana Jill Simpson has never testified.

An attorney, Simpson voluntarily testified in 2007 under House Judiciary Committee staff cross-examination. Behind closed doors, she swore that a prominent fellow Republican predicted in early 2005 that Siegelman would be re-indicted later that year after collapse of the government’s first case against him. Also, she swore that she heard that Siegelman’s new prosecution would be steered to the Bush-nominee Judge Fuller, who “hated” Siegelman and would “hang” him.

Rove’s spin on these kinds of post-conviction issues shows why this summer’s interviews should be just a first step in a more thorough probe and public hearing.

The Justice Department should live up to its name by welcoming cross-examination of witnesses under oath before a fair judge. Questions about this case and so many like it around the country will not be forgotten simply by imprisoning the defendants. Others care deeply, both because of defendant rights and our own.

My next articles will explore growing concerns around the country about such matters, including those being voiced by Republicans and libertarians. The national magazine for paralegals Know just published my in-depth profile Dissed and Dismissed about the courageous paralegal Tamarah Grimes. Working on the Siegelman case, she was fired by DoJ in June after she went through official whistleblower channels in 2007 to allege DoJ prosecution misconduct.

In the meantime, I read comments with great interest and look forward to learning your suggestions (including, yes, your criticism) and ideas for next steps.

Follow Andrew Kreig on Twitter.

Siegelman, Wecht To Lead Netroots Forum Aug. 15 Reporting About DoJ’s ‘Rove’ Prosecutions

August 7, 2009

Netroots Nation hosts an unprecedented forum on Aug. 15 in Pittsburgh to help journalists learn how Bush administration prosecutors altered the U.S. political map by corruption investigations of Democrats, who were targeted by at least 5:1 ratios.

Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and former Pennsylvania Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht will show how “selective prosecution” unfairly ruined careers and poses an ongoing threat to our legal system.

The forum is, “Reporting DoJ Misconduct Scandals: Why Netroots Remains Last Hope for Justice.” The title reflects largely failed oversight by courts, Congress and traditional media – and the breakthrough reporting opportunity right now for others, based on major recent revelations.

I’m moderating the forum after investigating mid-term dismissals U.S. attorneys in 2006. White House political advisor Karl Rove helped remove nine U.S. attorneys in mid-term, including seven on one day. As documented in hearings, “Loyal Bushies” destroyed a U.S. tradition that justice system office-holders are barred from such political hit jobs as pre-election indictments.

High Stakes
But the 84 remaining U.S. attorneys have created their own history, much of it tawdry. That’s why Siegelman, Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003, continues to stress an ongoing threat to the country, not simply ruin of his own career and family.

Siegelman’s convictions in 2006 were essentially because he urged HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy in 1999 to donate to a non-profit that advocated better school funding. The governor then reappointed Scrushy to a state regulatory board. Now 63 and free on bond, Siegelman faces 20 years in prison when he returns for sentencing before Middle District Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller, a Republican who is reputed to hate Siegelman. Scrushy, a Republican who says he was framed in a “vendetta” against Siegelman, is serving a seven-year sentence.

Wecht, a law school graduate and a national leader in forensic medicine, also seeks better oversight of DoJ. The 78-year-old Democrat is now $6 million in debt from legal bills.

DoJ’s 84 felony charges against Wecht were politically motivated and based on “trivial” matters, according to 2007 congressional testimony by former U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a Republican and member of Wecht’s defense team. Authorities charged Wecht with 24 felonies, for example, involving his use of a fax machine in the coroner’s office.

Republican U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan dropped charges in June for lack of evidence, but continued to denounce Wecht. Remarkably, Buchanan and Alabama Middle District U.S. Attorney Leura Canary remain in office despite a tradition that U.S. attorneys resign when their party loses power. Canary’s husband William is a close friend of Rove and a longtime political opponent of Siegelman.

Change?
No Obama nominees for U.S. attorney have yet taken office, 10 months after elections. As the Senate prepares for its month-long recess today, Bush holdovers continue in many other influential DoJ jobs. One is Public Integrity Section Chief William Welch. He co-signed a July 28 legal argument that no reasonable person in the U.S. would think that Siegelman and Scrushy deserve a hearing to explore their new evidence.

DoJ’s argument rings false. DoJ’s prosecution was already the nation’s most controversial of the decade before evidence in June that prosecutors tried blackmail their chief witness without required disclosure to the defense. And Welch, whom DoJ does not make available for comment, is under court-ordered criminal investigation for the misconduct of his trial team last fall in convicting U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

In 2007, University of Missouri at St. Louis Professor Donald Shields found that elected Democrat officials were targeted by a 5:1 ratio over Republicans. New research shows even higher rates, with some prosecutions of Republicans also questionable.

Penetrate the Secrets
To explore these patterns, the Netroots forum features Wecht’s lead trial attorney Jerry McDevitt of K&L Gates. McDevitt will describe how prosecutors can secure advantage in subtle ways at every stage of a proceeding from investigation through appeals.

Gail Sistrunk, vice president and executive director of the educational group Project Save Justice, will summarize national abuses portrayed in its recent documentary video entitled, “The Political Prosecutions of Karl Rove.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Michigan) is invited. The Justice Department declined to send speakers, even for a separate segment with no opposing view.

These topics are undoubtedly sensitive. The Siegelman case alone includes three public-spirited individuals (none Democrats) who’ve paid huge career costs because of their belief that legal ethics required them to report to authorities their evidence of wrongdoing. One is Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, who unsuccessfully sought Fuller’s impeachment in 2003. Another is Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson, who swore in 2007 that fellow Republicans plotted to frame Siegelman. Also in 2007, Justice Department paralegal Tamarah Grimes protested to DoJ misconduct on the prosecution team. DOJ then threatened her for a year with criminal prosecution, and fired her in June.

I’ve reported their stories here, here and here with responses by authorities.

So have others who are mostly web-based journalists providing effective big picture and local angles. Harper’s, CBS 60 Minutes and the New York Times have been among leaders in traditional media in breaking new ground. But most traditional news organizations avoid this story, which risks antagonizing powerful officials – including at parent companies seeking the goodwill of government policymakers.

This is not just a story about a few well-known political leaders forced to defend themselves. It’s about many others targeted around the country along with their devastated families, thereby affecting the policy agenda of localities and regions. Let’s compare notes in Pittsburgh. And please pass this on to interested friends. This is a good fight, and a big one.

As Rove Testifies About Firings At Justice, Why Did DoJ Fire Whistleblower?

July 10, 2009

New questions are surfacing about political intrigue at the U.S. Justice Department after former White House political strategist Karl Rove provided his long-awaited responses to House Judiciary Committee staff Tuesday about allegations that he pressured prosecutors to target Democrats nationally.

Few details have emerged about Rove’s questioning on such topics as the 2006 dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

By remarkable coincidence, however, the Justice Department separately confirmed that it has fired Alabama whistleblower Tamarah Grimes. She was the top in-house paralegal for the prosecution team that won corruption convictions in 2006 against former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, and HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy.

Grimes later provided her Justice Department superiors and Congress with evidence that the rights of the defendants were violated. Siegelman and Scrushy cited her revelations heavily in their recent motions for a new trial based on new evidence.

In an interview July 8 for this article, Grimes alleged a bone-chilling conspiracy to frame the defendants for political gain. She says her experiences opened her eyes to parallels outside Alabama and to the ruinous consequences for federal government employees of protesting injustice.

“No one helps you,” says Grimes, who adds that she was browbeaten with threats of false criminal charges by her superiors and investigators alike. She says Congress needs to enhance protections for whistleblowers to prevent wrongdoing by high-level government officials.

Justice Department spokesman Tracy Schmaler responded, “The Department takes seriously its obligation under the whistleblower law, and did not violate it with regards to the termination of this employee. For privacy reasons, it would be inappropriate to comment any further on this personnel matter at this time.”

In related news Tuesday, Alabama’s senior Democratic Congressman Artur Davis denied reports that he seeks to extend the term of Republican U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, Grimes’s boss in the state’s Middle District, in order to win Republican and business support for his 2010 campaign for governor.

Addie Whisenant, the congressman’s press secretary, said any suggestion that Davis wants a Republican is “absolutely absurd.” She said that the state’s two Republican Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have blocked the congressman’s nominations of Democrats. Whisenant declined to say why Republicans can block Presidential appointments that are typically generated through the state leadership of the President’s party.

Alabama journalist Roger Shuler has written back-to-back stories on his Legal Schnauzer blog summarizing reports of the congressman’s goals, and breaking news of the Grimes firing.

Alabama attorney Dana Jill Simpson – herself a prominent whistleblower after her sworn testimony in 2007 that fellow Republicans framed Siegelman to prevent his re-election as governor – on July 7 urged friends to pressure Davis until he publicly asks the Obama administration to fire Canary. Canary remains in office as one of many Bush holdovers helping run to the nation’s federal justice system despite the tradition that political appointees resign upon a change in administration.

Only seven of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorney posts have Democratic nominees, with none of them confirmed, according to the latest statistics from the Justice Department. This means that 38 of the 93 U.S. attorney offices – which have vast power over civil and criminal litigation in their districts – are still controlled by Bush Presidentially appointed political incumbents who survived its reputed internal political purge in 2006, and last November’s landslide Democratic election victory based on the theme of “change.”

Canary’s husband William is president of the politically powerful Business Council of Alabama, and is one of Rove’s closest friends after many years working together on Republican strategies. And it was Canary whom Simpson identified as leading a conference call in 2002 suggesting that Siegelman would no longer be an election threat to Republicans in Alabama because federal officials would prosecute him.

Siegelman was prosecuted in successive indictments in 2004 and 2005. Canary has denied Simpson’s allegations against him.

Simpson said her testimony about political prosecutions in Alabama encouraged defendant families around the country to contact her with similar tales of abusive prosecutions destroying the defendant’s political careers and family finances for no legal valid reason.

She said she passed on their information for the past two years to the relatively few journalists willing to pursue investigative leads, with law professor Scott Horton of Harper’s providing the most numerous and comprehensive follow-ups.

Horton and I were among 13 speakers speaking June 26 at an unprecedented conference at the National Press Club on selective prosecutions by the Bush Justice Department. Legal experts and defendants said that hundreds of defendants may have been targeted unfairly on corruption charges.

University of Missouri at St. Louis researcher Dr. Donald Shields has published a study finding that the Bush Justice Department investigated elected Democrats by a 7:1 ratio compared to Republicans.
Citing short notice and a need for confidentiality, the Justice Department declined to send a speaker.

But former Reagan Administration Associate Deputy Attorney Gen. Bruce Fein and retired Chief U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon of Birmingham described widespread abuses of power. Clemon said the 2004 prosecution of Siegelman was the most unfounded criminal case he observed in nearly 30 years on the federal bench.

C-SPAN cablecast the forum seven times, with excerpts available on its website.

In an interview July 8, Grimes said she tried her best to use legally protected channels to assure justice. “I am a Republican. I believe in the U.S. Constitution, and that what happened in Montgomery, Alabama with the Siegelman/Scrushy prosecution is a travesty of justice.”

She said the prosecution’s misconduct included contact with jurors during their deliberations without advising the defense, pressuring of witnesses to change their testimony, and Canary’s continued supervision of the prosecution while publicly claiming that she was recused because of her husband’s longtime political opposition to Siegelman.

“In July 2007, I filed whistleblower disclosures with several agencies,” she said. “My thought was to get the word out to as many oversight agencies as possible.

“When Leura Canary found out which I had done, she was livid. She called me into her office to threaten and intimidate me. It went downhill from there.”

Grimes said that she was continually threatened with criminal prosecution on bogus charges of denying that she had made secret tape recordings, and then was placed on administrative leave. She was fired after writing a letter June 1 to Attorney General Eric Holder outlining prosecution misconduct against Siegelman.

“Selective prosecution is a tool that Leura Canary uses at will,” said Grimes of Canary. “She has enjoyed a great deal of success thus far. No one has been able to overcome what she calls ‘powerful friends’ in Washington. My question is: What is still pulling the strings almost six months into a new administration?”

Simpson says of Grimes, whom she’s never met or tried to contact, “I think that woman’s a hero. She came forward knowing she was going to get fired in all likelihood. Isn’t it amazing that the big-shots who sent innocent people to prison around the country are still on the government payroll?”

Simpson was the original whistleblower bringing national attention to the Siegelman case. In February 2007, she reached out to Scrushy and his legal team as they prepared for sentencing.

Scrushy had been convicted on corruption charges for arranging donations to an education non-profit at Siegelman’s request in 1999 and then being reappointed by Siegelman to a state regulatory board on which Scrushy had served under three previous governors. The defendants have claimed that such appointments are routine in politics and not illegal, but heavily Republican courts have rejected their arguments.

Simpson went public with an affidavit in May 2007 outlining a conspiracy to frame Siegelman by Republicans, for whom she had performed volunteer opposition research for years against such Democratic targets as Siegelman. Rove and each of those that she has named have denied Simpson’s allegations, as previously reported on the Huffington Post.

Despite Simpson’s affidavit, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery sentenced the defendants to prison terms of seven years apiece. The judge ordered the defendants to be taken immediately from the courtroom in shackles to begin serving their terms, with Siegelman put in solitary confinement that limited his contact with the media and supporters.

Siegelman was released on bond pending appeal, and is now facing a sentence of 20 years in prison following denial of his appeals. Scrushy remains in prison.

Alabama Decisions By Siegelman’s Judge Illustrate Abuses of Judicial Power Affecting Many

June 10, 2009

The plight of litigants who face a biased judge is illustrated by the track record of a prominent Alabama federal judge, as well by major recent decisions requiring new trials in West Virginia and Georgia courts.

The track record of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark E. Fuller of Montgomery, Alabama shows that he continues to supervise cases compromised by his personal, financial or political interests despite his promise at his 2002 confirmation hearing to recuse himself from any conflicts.

Exposure of Fuller’s record is timely because of the Senate’s forthcoming hearings for Obama administration judicial nominees, and because of growing concerns about the recusal standard. These include the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling June 8 that a West Virginia Supreme Court judge should have recused himself from a case involving a major contributor to his judicial election campaign. Also, a federal judge in Georgia admitted last month that he shouldn’t have tried and sentenced a high-profile political adversary who now seeks dismissal of the charges.

The right to an impartial judge is worth understanding because so many of us are likely to be in court one day, or at least to care about a friend or family member’s civil or criminal case. The federal legal standard requiring recusal centers on whether an ordinary informed person might think a judge’s impartiality might be questioned. In contrast, the vast majority of legal issues are primarily for legal specialists, whether lawyers or judges. And most of these experts clearly are reluctant to provide the laity with the kind of information below in an analysis of six Fuller cases.

In Alabama, Fuller has declined to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a longtime personal and political foe. On May 15, my Huffington Post columndocumented this under the title, “Siegelman Deserves New Trial Because of Judge’s ‘Grudge’, Evidence Shows….$300 Million in Bush Military Contracts Awarded to Judge’s Private Company.” Others have published many criticisms of Siegelman’s prosecution by the U.S Justice Department, making it the nation’s most controversial criminal case of the past decade.

“The conduct in the federal court in Montgomery is an unprecedented disgrace,” wrote Harper’s columnist and Columbia University Law School professor Scott Horton, for example, in January 2008.

Yet there’s always two sides to a story, even in an opinion column such as this. In that spirit, here is the core of an email that Judge Fuller sent me this week after I requested his perspectives: “However, I cannot comment on any pending case and as much as I would like for the record to be set straight, I will not become involved in responding to accusations about any pending matter. I appreciate your desire to seek the truth in an unbiased way and I wish you the best of luck.”

That’s a nice note under the circumstances. Additional reader views and news tips are welcome in the comment section below, including from the judge’s defenders.

But today’s column focuses primarily on questions about the justice system. In this, it draws on the advice I received in 1976 on the first day of my five years reporting about the federal justice system for the Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s largest newspaper. “Remember in your reporting, the government is always right!” said a smiling young prosecutor named Paul E. Coffey. He would go on to win a pioneering prosecution against the mob in Hartford, and then lead the Justice Department’s nationwide organized crime strike force that would smash the Mafia’s power, thereby helping the country immeasurably.

A different tone my first day came from my Courant predecessor on the justice beat Thomas “Dennie” Williams when he took me aside in a courthouse hallway at the end of his introductory tour to meet federal judges and prosecutors. “Don’t ever forget,” he advised, “that for some of the people coming through this court, you’re the last chance they’ve got.” Williams is still at it, reporting in a 2006 Truthout article about one of nation’s most comprehensive studies of public complaints about federal judges. The findings? That only six of the nearly 4,300 public complaints over a six-year period resulted in any action by higher authorities. Five judges received the lowest forms of public or private censure, and one received a secret response.

Focusing on Alabama, Harper’s columnist Scott Horton has calledfor congressional oversight of Fuller and potential removal of the judge and the most devious of the federal prosecutors from “their sinecures.” Horton has authored more than two dozen such columns about Fuller since mid-2007. Most of them criticized the judge’s activism in helping Bush administration prosecutors in 2006 in their all-out effort to convict the Democrat Siegelman on corruption charges in 2006. A few columns reported on the judge’s cozy relationships with powerful elected officials who are in a position to help his business interests, as well as the unwillingness of local media barons to scrutinize those situations.

Yet Fuller’s power — like that of other federal and state supreme court judges — extends far beyond criminal cases such as Siegelman’s to broader issues that directly affect the quality of life in his state.

A review of Fuller’s track record since his lifetime appointment in 2002 shows many instances of his judicial activism that helped himself and also raised serious questions of conflict of interest. The summary below of six controversial cases is long. In fact, it’s remarkably long for a judge who’s been in office just six and a half years since his nomination by President Bush and his recommendation by Alabama’s two Republican Senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. The Senate recommendations, available here for review, focused upon Fuller’s work as a full-time district attorney for the state of Alabama, supervising an office serving two counties.

Sessions is the most senior and otherwise influential Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As such, his opinions of nominees are highly influential in the current review of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor and what will soon become a flood of other Obama nominees for judgeships and posts at the U.S. Department of Justice around the country.

What’s At Stake?
Illustrating the enormous public interest in keeping judges fair and honest — whether in Alabama, West Virginia or elsewhere — is legal work by the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) to protect the pensions of state employees. RSA’s longtime chairman is Dr. David G. Bronner. He is highly regarded in Alabama for increasing the employee pension fund from $500 million in 1973 to an estimated $32 billion by the end of 2007.

In 2002 and 2003, RSA and Bronner challenged Fuller’s integrity in two disputes that were widely reported in the local press and in back-to-back editorials that Bronner wrote for RSA’s monthly newsletter for retirees, The Advisor.

The first controversy was to prevent a money grab by Alabama criminal investigator Bruce DeVane, who worked for Fuller in the district attorney’s office. In 2000, Fuller raised DeVane’s annual pay from $80,307 to $152,014. That new pay grade was nearly $60,000 more than Fuller’s own pay of $92,169 from the state that year as DeVane’s boss. DeVane, 49, then sought to retire and use the higher salary as his pension base for the rest of his life.

After assuming his federal judicial office on Nov. 26, 2002, Fuller used the prestige of his judicial status on Dec. 4 to testify in support of DeVane’s claim, even though section 2B of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges discourages testimonials. The judge cited DeVane’s hard work in writing office manuals as a key reason for the raise. RSA opposed what it projected to be $330,000 in unmerited payments based on Fuller’s “salary spike” for DeVane just before retirement.

In another court dispute at the same time, RSA was alleging fraud against the bankers and financial advisors for Enron, Inc., following the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. RSA sought reimbursement to protect retirees. Separately, federal prosecutors were on the way to winning criminal convictions against Enron’s top management.

In 2007, RSA’s chairman summed up these disputes in a front-page editorial in The Advisor. “The RSA had to go through the entire state court system to prevent Judge Fuller’s buddy from ripping off the RSA,” Bronner wrote. “Shortly thereafter, Judge Fuller tried to sandbag the RSA by preventing our claim (by doing nothing) against the ultimate crook ─ Enron! Fortunately, the RSA prevailed on both issues.”

Based in part on evidence from the RSA case and from a state district attorney, Missouri attorney Paul B. Weeks, representing a plaintiff before Fuller in the separate civil lawsuit Murray v. Scott, drew up a motion in 2003 to force Fuller to recuse himself from Murray.

Weeks alleged that the pension and Enron cases were part of a Fuller criminal conspiracy. Its essence, Weeks said, was to force the state to provide hush money for DeVane because the investigator knew that Fuller spent so much of his time out-of-state as the chief executive officer of the Colorado-based military contractor Doss Aviation, Inc. “If so,” Weeks wrote in his filing, “this would be a judicial infamy of historic dimension: a federal judge who waited only 9 days after taking office before committing crimes and violating laws he swore to uphold” [emphasis in the original].

Weeks delivered copies of his sworn statement, motion and evidence totaling 180 pages to Fuller and to the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section, among others. Weeks obtained Fuller’s recusal from the Murray suit, but with no written explanation for the reasons. Holding the view that Fuller was so dishonest that he should never preside over another litigant, Weeks also asked the Public Integrity Section to prosecute Fuller for perjury and conspiracy to defraud RSA of $330,000 in pension funds.

Weeks now says that the Public Integrity Section’s failure to disclose Fuller’s status means that the judge should have announced his status to litigants in the Siegelman case and recused himself if he failed to secure a waiver from them to continue. His theory was that the Justice Department potentially controlled the judge because it could prosecute the judge himself at any time for conduct far worse than alleged against the defendant Siegelman.

The Justice Department declined to confirm or deny any investigation of Fuller. The Department and Fuller have maintained at other times that their decisions are justified, with Fuller saying criticism is “politically motivated.” DeVane’s attorney Joe C. Cassady failed to respond to a request for comment. Fuller, before his government work, had been a partner in Cassady’s law firm in Enterprise, Alabama.

Recusal Overview
Fuller’s proceedings show that he sometimes recuses himself, sometimes not. Sometimes he writes an opinion justifying his actions, sometimes not. What’s consistent is that his actions have prompted a remarkable level of controversy by litigants and outside critics accusing him of abusing his powers since he took office.

Recusal occurs when a judge decides not to preside over a particular case. Once a judge recuses, the case is then sent to another judge who then, in turn, assigns the case to a new judge who is qualified to preside. If granted in a criminal matter after conviction it typically requires a new judge and a new trial. Federal law requires recusal if an “objective, disinterested lay observer” would have a “significant doubt” about a judge’s impartiality. This legal standard is distinctive in its reliance upon the views of the ordinary person.

The standard creates a particular drama in the Siegelman case. This is because Fuller and the Justice Department have maintained that not a single objective and informed person in the U.S. might think the judge biased. This is despite a public protest that is almost unprecedented this decade anywhere else about the fairness and legality of this case, including the judge’s supervision.

Judges are supposed to initiate their own recusal if circumstances warrant under a leading U.S. Supreme Court case. In Liljeberg v. Health Svcs. Acq. Corp, the court ruled in 1988 that a Louisiana judge inexcusably failed to remove himself from a case when he knew he was a trustee of a hospital involved. The case and its applicability to Fuller were described in a May 18 article by Alabama journalist Roger Shuler quoting Weeks entitled, “Siegelman Judge Committed Fraud on the Court.”

As one of the recent cases keeping recusal in the news: the Supreme Court ruledJune 8 in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Co. that West Virginia’s chief justice must recuse himself from a $50 million case against a coal company whose chief executive had spent $3 million to elect him. Thirty-nine states elect at least some of their judges, according to a New York Times report. See Court opinion.

That decision followed one last month by Georgia federal judge Dudley Bowen, who admitted that he never should have presided over the corruption trial of former Georgia senate leader Charles Walker because “impartiality might reasonably have been questioned.” Walker, a former state senate majority leader and a publisher of Georgia newspapers that are aimed at blacks, had opposed Bowen’s judicial appointment three decades ago because of Bowen’s membership in clubs that restricted membership to whites. Walker’s prosecution on 142 counts of fraud primarily stemmed from claims that his newspapers fooled advertisers by exaggerated circulation totals, which is not uncommon among publications.

Critics of the prosecution such as Horton and Walker’s son Charles “Champ” Walker, a radio show host, have cited the case as closely comparable to Siegelman’s as an example of an all-out effort by Bush administration Justice Department to target Democrats. The Georgia case was different from Siegelman’s, however, because the defendant’s judge had been nominated by a Democrat. But evidence leading to the recusal showed the additional factor that the judge was friendly with a newspaper publisher in Augusta who competed with the defendant.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that my father’s case must be retried or his sentence vacated and rights restored,” Champ Walker wrote me on June 10 as he planned a trip to Washington, DC this month to seek Department of Justice review. “We will never stop fighting for him or for the others that have been wronged. I ask the question: How could the DOJ not intervene with the evidence that Judge Dudley Bowen recused?”

The Alabama Cases
Below is a sample of Fuller cases, including two excerpted above, that raise questions about potential judicial bias forbidden by the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges if it might constitute “impropriety or the appearance of impropriety.” The critical year for decision-making is in parenthesis.

Murray v. Scott (2003). On July 25, 2003, Paul Weeks filed his affidavit seeking Fuller’s recusal from Murray, as described above and in my May 15 Huffington Post article. Source materials, including his exhibits and relevant court rulings on this and other cases below, are available here. The Weeks filing was based in significant part on state proceedings involving RSA. Weeks claimed that Fuller’s motivation was to keep DeVane quiet about the specifics of Fuller’s two concurrent full-time jobs from 1997 to 2002. Fuller was chairman and chief executive officer of Colorado-based Doss Aviation from 1989 to 2002. That overlapped since 1997 with Fuller’s state district attorney post.

Weeks promptly won Fuller’s recusal from Murray. But neither Fuller nor Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge James L. Edmondson described the reasons for the recusal. Furthermore, the legal arguments and evidence submitted to the court system by Weeks were placed in a “separate binder” that is not readily available to other litigants via the federal court system’s electronic document retrieval system PACER.

Weeks says that court officials apparently wanted his evidence hidden from any future litigants facing Fuller. If so, Fuller’s duty to disclose his conflicts under the Liljeberg Supreme Court case would be especially strong. Siegelman and his co-defendant Richard Scrushy say they never knew before their trial that Weeks had made wide-ranging allegations against Fuller, or that the judge was the largest stakeholder in a military contractor whose revenue depended on government contracts.

Retirement Systems of Alabama v. Merrill Lynch & Co. (“RSA-Enron Case”) (2003). In March 2002, Alabama’s state pension fund RSA filed suit in Alabama’s state court in Montgomery to recover $65 million lost in the “death spiral” of Enron in 2001. RSA requested that Fuller stop trying to assert federal jurisdiction over the case to affect its outcome, and instead let the case remain in its proper venue in state court.

During this period in 2003, Weeks filed his affidavit in the Weeks case, saying, “As I understand it, Judge Fuller refused to recuse himself from the RSA-Enron case. This is a very troubling situation” [emphasis in the original].

“The evidence strongly suggests that Fuller and DeVane committed serious crimes against the RSA,” Weeks continued. “By refusing to recuse himself from the RSA’s case against Enron, Judge Fuller is positioned to taint the RSA and any RSA official who may testify against Fuller should Fuller ever be prosecuted for his crimes against the RSA [emphasis in the original]. In the RSA-Enron case, Judge Fuller will rule against the RSA on some important issue. Then, if Fuller is ever criminally prosecuted for his crimes against the RSA, Fuller can claim that any RSA official who testifies against Fuller is doing so in retaliation for a court ruling Fuller made against the RSA.”

“Thousands of Alabamians rely on RSA for their pensions,” wrote Alabama journalist Roger Shuler on his blog in 2007. “And yet Weeks’s affidavit presents overwhelming evidence that Fuller first tried to defraud RSA and then wrongfully ruled against RSA in retaliation for the pension fund having the audacity to defend itself from an attempt at fraud. Does Mark Fuller sound like the kind of person who should be in any position of authority? Does he sound like the kind of person who should have been overseeing the trial of former Governor Don Siegelman?”

In the end, RSA was able to transfer its Enron suit away from Fuller to state court. A settlement announced in 2005 by RSA’s law firm was that five financial advisors and fund-raisers for Enron agreed to pay RSA $49 million. The settlement of the state case allowed RSA to recoup the vast bulk of the money that it lost in its Enron investments.

U.S. v. Siegelman (2007). Don Siegelman was Alabama’s governor from 1999 to 2003. He and former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy were indicted in secret on May 17, 2005, with the case assigned to Fuller. Prosecutors announced the charges and Fuller’s assignment on Oct. 26, 2005 in a superseding indictment. The key allegation was that the wealthy Scrushy arranged $500,000 in donations to the Alabama Education Foundation. Siegelman supported the foundation’s advocacy for better schools through a state lottery so strongly that he personally signed a loan guarantee for its debt. Siegelman then reappointed Scrushy to a volunteer state board on which Scrushy had served under three previous governors. In 2006, the defendants were convicted on seven of 32 counts on corruption charges.

In February 2007 as sentencing before Fuller approached for the defendants, Jill Simpson alerted Scrushy’s attorneys that her work as an attorney representing government contractors enabled her to know that Fuller received massive non-judicial income from Doss Aviation and its affiliates.

Simpson was also a longtime volunteer in opposition research to help Republican candidates against Siegelman and other Democrats. She testified later in 2007 to congressional staff that she was worried before the Scrushy and Siegelman sentencing that she was obligated as an attorney to prevent the defendants from being wrongly framed and imprisoned. She said she had heard clues about a plot among fellow Republicans to prevent Siegelman from running for re-election in 2006, and was later appalled to see something like it unfold. Republicans have denied her allegations.

In April 2007, Scrushy and his attorneys filed a motion asking Fuller to recuse himself. The brief alleged that Fuller’s 43.75 percent ownership in Doss Aviation reported in state corporation filings was a conflict of interest because of the company’s dependence on contracts from the same federal government they said was wrongfully prosecuting Scrushy. Fuller’s closely held company had six other shareholders. The only one with more than a 6.25 percent share was Fuller’s former law partner, Joe C. Cassady, Sr., with 25 percent.

Frank G. Hunter, Fuller’s successor as Doss Aviation chairman and CEO, was later quoted as saying that Fuller’s stake has been lowered to 30 percent. Doss officials failed to respond this week to a request to comment on Fuller’s current stake in the company, which has received more than $300 million in federal military contracts since the beginning of 2006. The multiyear contracts are for such tasks as training U.S. Air Force pilots nationally, providing the military and such civilian agencies as the FBI with uniforms and safety gear, and refueling Air Force planes, including Air Force One.

Fuller rejected the recusal motion, saying that no reasonable person would think he might be biased. He went on to sentence the two co-defendants in June 2007 to seven years in prison apiece, denying them the appeal bonds that usually are granted to white-collar defendants and ordering them to be sent immediately from court to prison in shackles. Siegelman, 63, later won freedom from an all-Democratic appeals court ruling after nine months in prison, a month of it in solitary confinement. Scrushy, 56, remains in prison.

An all-Republican panel of the federal appeals court affirmed Fuller’s jurisdiction on March 6, 2009, saying that Scrushy’s argument was “untimely.” The appeals court also affirmed five of Siegelman’s seven convictions of the 32 charges originally brought by prosecutors. The court dismissed allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and ordered the defendants to reappear before Fuller for re-sentencing.

The mostly Republican full appeals court affirmed the three-judge decision. The Obama Justice Department, which includes many holdover political appointees from the Bush administration in key positions in Alabama and elsewhere, has requested that Fuller increase Siegelman’s sentence to 20 years. The reasons for the Justice Department’s recommendation are in a letter to the U.S. Probation Department that the Department has declined to discuss.

Gustafson v. Johns (2006). On May 22, 2006, Fuller was one of three judges on a special three-judge panel of the federal court of appeals who dismissed a constitutional challenge by 19 Alabama voters alleging that Alabama’s 2001 redistricting was partisan gerrymanderingthat deprived voters of their rights to fair elections. unanimous decision by two Republicans and a Democrat was that the case should be dismissed because it was so similar to previous litigation.

Redistricting decisions such as this can have enormous impact because the process typically occurs just once every 10 years and carves up congressional districts in convoluted ways to benefit the powerful.

The appeals court judges noted that Gustafson was brought by Republicans, and had its roots in early 1990s activities of the executive committee of Alabama’s Republican Party. Fuller himself had served from 1992 to 1998 on that same Republican executive committee.

During that period, the Republican leadership worked with such political strategists as William Canary and his close friend Karl Rove to transform Alabama’s state office-holders from primarily Democratic to primarily Republican. The notable exception was Siegelman, the only politician in Alabama’s history to hold all four of its top elected statewide offices and serving almost continually in statewide office from 1979 to 2003.

The docket in Gustafson shows no effort to recuse Fuller because of his 1990s Republican political leadership. His work included serving as the campaign manager for longtime Alabama Congressman Terry Everett, a newspaper tycoon from Fuller’s district who was one of the most powerful Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee until retirement this year.

In sum, the Republican Gustafson plaintiffs lost with Fuller’s concurrence, and no one asked for Fuller’s recusal. But the case illustrates federal judicial authority over an important dimension of public life, as well as the reluctance of judge and litigants alike to put potential conflict of interest problems on the record.

U.S. v. Stayton (2007). This is another Fuller case involving a recusal that didn’t happen, at least not for a year. The case centers on events near Fuller’s hometown Enterprise, which is located in south-central Alabama. Nearby is Fort Rucker, the nation’s primary flight training base for Army Aviation.

On March 1, 2006, federal prosecutors announced the indictment on corruption charges of William C. Childree, CEO of Enterprise-based Maverick Aviation, and Jeffrey Stayton, an official at the army test and evaluation command center in Enterprise. The government charged that Childree bribed Stayton to help Maverick obtain a $4.7 million contract to modify two Russian helicopters for the U.S. government’s use. This was a small part of what was reportedly a much broader campaign to buy Russian helicopters for use in Iraq. Part of that was described in a Wired article this spring by Sharon Weinberger, “How To Get A No-Bid Contract for Russian Choppers.”

Much of the case remains secret because of national security. But this much is known: Fuller and his former law partner Joe C. Cassady, Sr. together owned 69 percent of Doss Aviation, according to 2003 Maine corporation counsel records, with total apparently reduced over time. But Fuller waited more than a year after the indictment before recusing himself on March 18, 2007 because of the relationship of Maverick and Doss Aviation. A jury later convicted the defendants before another judge.

The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section pressured Fuller behind-the-scenes to remove himself from the Maverick case after a year of presiding, according to two sources. One of them, Jill Simpson, says, “It shows that Public Integrity knew exactly what kind of guy Fuller was, and had to even figure a way to get him out.” But that account is disputed. “The Department of Justice plays no role in the selection of trial judges,” according to Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney, “nor did it take a position for or against any possible recusals in the case you reference involving Maverick Aviation.”

The matter could be of continuing interest in the oversight investigations now occurring regarding several of the Justice Department’s high-profile prosecutions. The Public Integrity Section is led by William M. Welch, II. He was the department’s top official who signed its appeals court brief in the Siegelman-Scrushy in 2008 arguing that not a single informed U.S. citizen might think Fuller biased because of his Doss Aviation status. Welch also led the prosecution effort last fall against then-U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, the Republican from Alaska whose conviction on corruption charges was vacated this year because of allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

“The recusal order is under seal,” commented the Alabama blog Grievance Project, written under a pseudonym by an Alabama attorney, “making it impossible to learn what conflicts the parties saw in the matter, nor why Judge Fuller felt free to handle the case for some time before withdrawing. It could be legitimate, or it could be a cover-up, and there is no way to find out with the seal in place.”

Walton v. Neptune Technologies (2009). This case illustrates the potential risk for attorneys, private investigators and litigants when researching the background of a judge.

Priscilla Black Duncan of Birmingham, an active Democrat, is a sole practitioner whose clients include Jill Simpson and her friend Mark Bollinger. Bollinger, with 35 years of law enforcement experience, used his account with the data service ChoicePoint to help her research a question about Doss Aviation in February 2007 for Scrushy’s unsuccessful motion asking Fuller to recuse.

Also, Duncan represents Rebecca Walton, who filed a job bias and sex harassment suit in 2005 against her former employer Neptune Technologies. In March 2009, Duncan requested that Fuller recuse himself from Walton on the grounds that “he would find it impossible to be fair,” given her other clients Simpson and Bollinger.

In her legal brief, Duncan noted Simpson’s research exposing Fuller’s finances and her congressional testimony in 2007. In that testimony, Simpson alleged that a Republican friend had predicted in early 2005 that Siegelman would be indicted and that Fuller would be assigned the case to “hang” the defendant. Simpson said she was told that Fuller “hated” Siegelman because of the circumstances of the RSA pension case.

Regarding Bollinger, Duncan’s brief cited email correspondence suggesting that ChoicePoint cut off Bollinger’s subscription to ChoicePoint’s 17 billion records because of the judge’s complaint about Bollinger’s help for Simpson and Scrushy.

Neptune responded by arguing that Fuller should be able to retain jurisdiction over the job bias plaintiff Walton. On April 15, 2009, Fuller ruled that he would continue to preside over Walton because she had not objected to him in a timely manner. Also, Fuller wrote that he would have denied Walton’s motion even it had been on time, saying he “has no financial or other personal interest in the actions of any of Duncan’s clients.”

The judge praised Neptune for the quality of its legal arguments in arguing for his continued oversight, and he ordered all attorneys to prepare for Neptune’s request that the court dismiss Walton’s lawsuit before trial.

Summing Up
As noted above, the legal standard for recusal relies on the views of ordinary people, not on judges and other legal experts. In empowering a public that can be increasingly well-informed by Internet research, this legal standard reduces the traditional power of judges to pressure attorneys, who typically need to foster good relations with the most important judges in their districts.

Yet it’s ultimately judges themselves who interpret the legal standard, and the legal system virtually immunizes judges from scrutiny except in the most clear-cut cases, as noted in the Truthout report by my Hartford Courant courthouse mentor Dennie Williams in his article “Who Is Judging The Judge?”

From this perspective, the federal judiciary’s self-protection mechanisms show an awesome power over litigants, with information about finances doled out only long after the fact and in generalities by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Its spokesperson says, for example, that it does not make public individualized financial reports of judges that are due each May, and it advises interested parties to request the information from the judges. Fuller failed to respond to my requests for his current financial information on Doss Aviation and other holdings.

The power and secrecy of the judiciary dwarfs even the capabilities of a Siegelman, a Rhodes Scholar elected as Alabama’s attorney general in 1978. Siegelman says he knew nothing until after his conviction in 2006 about his judge’s Doss Aviation holdings and the corruption allegations unearthed by the six months research of Missouri attorney Paul Weeks. Siegelman relied on the 2007 recusal motion by his co-defendant Scrushy, but failed to join it. Courts and the Justice Department, as noted above, have rejected the Scrushy motion as “untimely,” with scant comment on the merits.

So what’s the lesson for any reader with an important case along with a fear that your judge might be compromised and your attorney too timid, too busy or too conflicted to speak up?

You could start your own in-depth investigation of the judge, making sure that your findings are on record with a formal complaint before any major judicial decision. Or you could encourage oversight bodies to do the job that they’re supposed to be doing.

If not you could end up like many others before you: Too late, too bad and sadly out of luck. ###