U.S. V. Siegelman
Judge Fuller presided over the criminal trial and sentencing of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman. After a highly-publicized trial that spanned several months, a jury convicted former Governor Siegelman and co-Defendant Richard Scrushy, founder and former CEO of HealthSouth, of federal funds bribery relating to Governor Siegelman's failed Alabama education lottery campaign. The jury had initially deadlocked twice, but after Fuller instructed the jury of the potential for “a lifetime job for you as a juror” noting that he had “a lifetime appointment” and was “a very patient person," the jury convicted the following day. The evidence in the case was that Scrushy had supported Governor Siegelman's gubernatorial opponent, Governor Fob James, in the 1998 race. When Siegelman ultimately prevailed, a friend of Scrushy reached out to the Siegelman team, insisting that Siegelman and Scrushy reconcile their differences. Siegelman initially resisted but ultimately agreed to meet with Scrushy. They met privately. Because Scrushy had supported Fob James, Siegelman wanted Scrushy to donate to his education lottery campaign. According to trial testimony from a Siegelman aide, Nick Bailey, after the meeting ended Siegelman emerged with a $250,000 check and told Bailey that Scrushy "was halfway there." When Bailey asked Siegelman what Scrushy wanted for the contribution, Siegelman allegedly said, "the C-O-N Board." However, Bailey's recollection of the events, in particular his thought that Siegelman had emerged from the meeting with a check, turned out to be incorrect. After receiving the contribution, a member of Siegelman's staff mishandled the check and failed to timely report the contribution. The check was reported only after Alabama's Secretary of State and Attorney General began asking Siegelman questions initially raised by Mobile Press-Register reporter Eddie Curran.
At his first sentencing hearing, Governor Siegelman—who was also convicted of obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding the workings of a motorcycle purchase Siegelman made while Governor—faced an advisory sentencing guidelines range of more than 150 months. Though Siegelman was not convicted on the substantive charge related to the motorcycle and though he did not benefit financially from the contribution, Fuller sentenced him to 88 months. Siegelman defenders argue that the sentence is unprecedented and the punishment excessive because, for example, former Alabama Governor Guy Hunt, a Republican, was found guilty of personally pocketing $200,000 and did not receive jail time.
On March 6, 2009, the Eleventh Circuit issued its opinion on Don Siegelman's appeal of his conviction. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the conviction and sentence, affirming most of Fuller's decisions throughout the trial. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Judge Hinkle's decision (Judge Fuller asked that a separate judge be assigned to handle the motion) that Judge Fuller need not recuse himself from the case. The Eleventh Circuit noted that recusal motions must be made before trial. However, the Defense in the Siegelman case did not learn of Fuller's conflicts (see "Criticism" below) until after the trial had begun. The Eleventh Circuit noted that the recusal motion "has all the earmarks of an eleventh-hour ploy based upon his dissatisfaction with the jury's verdict and the judge's post-trial rulings." The Eleventh Circuit also upheld the jury instructions that Fuller gave to the jury prior to their deliberations.
After the Eleventh Circuit dismissed two of the charges against Siegelman, the case was remanded to Judge Fuller for re-sentencing. Fuller reduced Governor Siegelman's sentence by 10 months, two months less than Fuller had done for Siegelman's co-Defendant for the same charges. The 78 month sentence, again, was less than the guideline range which was approximately double that number. Supporters for Siegelman point out that the guideline range was artificially inflated due to the amount of the contribution—the range did not take into account the fact that Siegelman did not himself financially benefit from the contribution.
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